Posts Tagged ‘witness’

Improve Our Spiritual Formation By Helping Others

June 24, 2016

Few things can help an individual more than to place responsibility on him, and to let him know that you trust him.  –Booker T. Washington

For more than 25 years, I’ve had a part in the development of young people through the youth soccer program. When you talk about giving responsibility and then trusting them, try teaching them something about refereeing a soccer match and then sending them out at age 14 or so with a whistle.

I take great enjoyment in watching young people develop into mature and responsible adults. It is the primary job in life for adults–to nurture the next generations.

Take another look at Paul’s letters to his protege, Timothy. He consoles him, challenges him, offers wise advice, and reprimands him. All in two short letters.

A friend told me recently about a thought he’d picked up that the church is called to equip people for ministry. Train them and then send them out.

I’m from the rural Midwest where there are still many people who remember the church as the social center of the community. Of course, almost everyone went to the same church. The public school was for all practical purposes an extension of the church.

For these people even unto today, the church is more like a club where you go meet your friends than a place where you intentionally train and encourage people for ministry.

People learn what they see and experience. If they see Christians as part of a club that withdraws from society once or twice a week, that is one thing. If they see Jesus-followers out in the community helping people, living like Jesus commanded, they learn something entirely different.

Our life is our witness. When our words are not congruent with our lives, then it’s what we do not what we say that is the witness to others. That is our challenge. To withdraw for spiritual nourishment and then live as if we learned something.

When we get that whistle and get in the game, do we use it wisely?

Eating Your Own Harvest

March 23, 2016

Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Jesus.

Jesus is in his last week. He knows what’s happening. His friends? Well, they have no clue. John, writing maybe 50 years later, acknowledges that they didn’t comprehend until later the significance of the words and the events.

Here Jesus is predicting his death. He is also stating a truth. If we stay within ourselves, self-contained as individuals, then we remain just a single grain. If we die to our ego-bound individuality, then we can live a new life with Jesus and bear much fruit.

How many times have you looked at someone and thought, “Wow, so much potential. All lost down the drain. They are just so wrapped up in themselves that they don’t realize what they could be.”

It happens to organizations, too.

I saw an old friend today. We were talking about churches. About how some churches just cannot see beyond their own doors. They spend their money on themselves–their buildings, salaries, offices. Mission giving? Well, that’s on the back burner. Maybe if we get a surplus of money we’ll spend some of it.

She called it, “Eating your own harvest.”

I thought, how appropriate given the verse that I’ve been meditating on. What little harvest we do receive, we consume ourselves instead of planting to reap a larger  harvest.

As for Jesus, his single grain died and he put forth a mighty harvest. No other single person in the history of the world has had such an impact.

Living In A Land of Paradox

February 3, 2016

The American Deep South is a fascinating place. Known as the “Bible Belt” for the prevalence of fundamentalist Evangelicals, it also has a violent history from the mid-20th Century and the Civil Rights movement.

I went to grad school at Louisiana State receiving an introduction to the South.

We drove to Florida last week. I noticed once again that Georgia is the land of billboards. That state may have more billboards per mile of Interstate highway than any other. If you take away the billboards advertising restaurants and hotels, you are left with two types of advertising.

Porn shops / strippers and Bible quotes.

Not that we don’t have porn shops in Ohio. I used to work out of a building beside one. But there just isn’t that amount of advertising. It’s as if we’re still a little ashamed to be appealing to the base lusts of men. (And sex trafficking is rampant in Ohio along with all the states. People just aren’t aware of it.)

Bible verses are good, of course. The thing I notice is that they seem to scream at you accusingly. Of course, all of us need to be accused for our thoughts and deeds that are not in keeping with the faith.

It’s just the paradox that gets me.

Do those Bible verses do any good?

What does it take to change someone’s direction? They were going off the exit toward a porn shop and suddenly decided to stop at the church next door. Why?

When you meet someone and the subject gets personal, can you get away with just quoting a Bible verse?

Probably not. It takes a deeper, longer conversation. Perhaps over a cup (or pot) of coffee. It takes time. Listening. Then you could pull out a passage and show how it applies directly to life.

You gotta show you care. A quick verse or an accusation won’t do anyone any good.

Tell The Story Of Christmas

December 22, 2015

Can there be anyone in the world who does not know that Friday is Christmas?

It is impossible to live in the US and not know about Christmas–at least as a holiday. The name is everywhere.

Many people will have the day off work.  Many have been buying presents. Even people who do not celebrate Christmas or know about the reason for the celebration buy presents for celebrations.

Unlike Easter which always occurs on a Sunday, Christmas can be any day of the week. But still churches are filled during December. Maybe not so much in January, but the last Sunday before Christmas and Christmas Eve services will draw more people than any other time excepting Easter.

Even more than presents and church attendance, the holiday means family gatherings. These dinners are as often fraught with tension and disappointment as they are joyous. Often the tension between hype and reality takes the luster off the day.

Let’s look at just the “Christian” perspective.

Is this just a celebration for the “in” people? We gather the members, sing songs, pat each other on the back, congratulate the pastor on drawing a big attendance.

What if…what if the followers of Jesus took advantage of all this marvelous (and free) advertising. We don’t have to be apologetic. Or in your face. We don’t have to say “merry Christmas” as if it were a challenge.

But so many people are hearing about Christmas who have no idea what the meaning is. They only know rumors and bad information about who that man Jesus was. Some may only have a vague idea that this is a birthday party for a man who changed the world and billions of individual people.

What if we saw this season as a great opportunity to start conversations with people outside the church. Let’s turn it all inside out. Instead of inbred celebration, let’s reach out to others.

Marketers spend tons of money and lots of energy to create this sort of messaging. I consult with companies to help them achieve just a part of this sort of marketing. Companies use this marketing to start conversations with prospects.

What if we used all this awareness throughout the culture to introduce people to a man who was God who can help them through so many life challenges? Not by shouting at people but by conversing with them.

For Christmas, Jesus, I’d Like Your Presence

December 21, 2015

“Jesus, I want your presence for Christmas.”

That sentence appeared somewhere last week. I love plays on words. They often drive ideas home. Several books of the Bible are full of these word plays–especially Psalms and Proverbs. Sometimes I think Paul sneaked one or two in his writings.

Presence–Presents.

There are people who, as children, received few presents. Then they went to school and saw what some of the other kids got. Cue jealousy, greed leading to a life of self-absorption, narcissism, and/or greed. Even into late adulthood, they still crave presents.

Even as Christians, as self-professed followers of the guy whose birth we celebrate. They can’t help it. This most likely was not a decision. So many things we get blamed for by the Pharisees who still live amongst us are not really decisions. Just reactions reinforced by family or peer group becoming habits of self-thought.

Others of us learned from those “poor” beginnings that all the gifts really had little meaning. Open the present, check out the (most likely cheap) toy, play for a while, then it’s over.

What remains is experience. All the family gathered. Special church worship. People especially cheerful, wishing peace for everyone.

Me, I seek the presence. As a contemplative, I’ve had experiences. They are deep and meaningful. On the other hand, some of the best experiences of presence have come in service. Sometime just a helping hand. Or picking up a dinner check for some stranger spontaneously. Or working with orphans in international ministries. It can be in the same house or half-way around the world.

We celebrated the 4th Sunday of Advent in a church that celebrates diversity. In just about every way. What a welcoming group of people. The presence was felt.

I only wish that we could spread that presence of the one whose birth we celebrate.

Could I be more witness and less preacher? Seek and share the presence of Jesus.

He Broke The Walls

December 10, 2015

He knew there were people on the other side of town. But no one from his group ever went there. Rumor was they spoke a different language, didn’t wash, were vicious.

He told the stranger who came to town not to go there. They were violent. Had guns. He’d just get in trouble…or worse.

But the stranger went. He had a mission to see people.

Upon his return, he reported, “They are just like you. They even suspect the same things about you that you suspect about them.”

People are people the world over or the neighborhood over. Hopes, fears, needs, desires. Same feelings of being lost and needing connection with God.

Paul, the apostle, lived that situation. He was often that stranger who went to the outsider group. He found that they were open to learning how to live with God.

He wrote to his friends in Ephesus, “Jesus has broken down the dividing wall, that is the hostility that is between us.”

What better calling in life than to make it your mission to break down walls. It is easier, of course, to build walls. We feel safer. We can be important in our own little fenced in area.

I was there once. My friends were Catholic. Don’t go to that place, they told me. Those are Protestants. They get into fights and will hurt you. Funny, I was Protestant. I grew up thinking that way about Catholics. Now they were my friends and I was warned about my people.

But it was OK, I told them. They are people, too. And this was Ohio, not Northern Ireland.

Ah, but to break down the wall and invite others to the party. That is the calling.

A Life of Service

December 2, 2015

It was somewhat “accidental” that the government sent him to work with youth in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the US.

You wonder how much of an accident it was. For the government, it was a form of punishment for not being drafted in the VietNam War era. He chose service.

There are people who love to quote passages from the Bible such as all things work for good for those who have faith. Whether God was behind the decision or God worked in the moment, the decision led to a life of service.

After some years of service, he went into business. But the service continued. He began adopting children whom no one else would care for. Severe handicaps and abuse. Some would never be able to leave his care (also his wife’s by the way who shared the entire journey).

He and his partner were good at that business thing. Became quite wealthy. The resources enabled the growing family to build a suitable estate to house them all.

A life of service done in the name of God. A life of service of which he never boasted. He and his wife “just did it.”

I heard the story once. It stuck. It makes me wonder what I’ve done with my life. Christians used to call this feeling “conviction,” in the sense of being convicted of a crime.

Stories such as this from my lifetime force me to recall Acts 2 and 4 where the church grew rapidly because of the way the members of the fellowship lived and cared for people.

Our witness of the power of Jesus gains credibility when done from a life of service to others.

Emotions are contagious

July 29, 2015

Yawns are contagious.

There–did you just either yawn or stifle a yawn?

One of my classmates many years ago in middle school read that truism. She would go around yawning (fake) just to see if other people would also yawn.

Emotions are also contagious. 

When you are around upbeat people don’t you usually feel better? Or, when you’re around someone with a dark cloud over their head, doesn’t it bring you down?

There are some people so over-the-top “up” that you get suspicious of them. But you can tell people who are just genuinely joyful. And you just love to be around them.

Love is the same way. People smile at a young couple romantically in love. But when there are groups of people who genuinely love each other–they care about each other, share concern, help out–outsiders can sense that group love. And they’d love to share in it.

I’ve seen people who found that emotion over the campfire at the end of the day during a Christian camp in the summer. They wanted every day of their lives to be like that.

Jesus taught that “outsiders” would know his followers, his disciples, by the love they showed each other. 

In fact, that is why the early church grew. People said, like the scene in Harry Met Sally, “I want what she’s having.”

I felt that once in my life. We had a group that was fantastic. Then we scattered around the country. I don’t think I ever felt it agains, except maybe during a short weekend during an Emmaus Walk.

It is great. Attreactive.

It is so good when people, especially Jesus-followers, work together in love. Why do we lose that?

They Don’t Tell The Story Anymore

December 17, 2014

“Fewer and fewer people tell the story of Advent anymore.”

Perhaps I listen to the Pastor too carefully. Sort of like a professor in college rather than as a professional speaker whose aim is not to enlighten but to move emotions.

This may have been just a rhetorical device. Build up a “straw man” only to tear it down later in the talk.

More likely it is the lament of a person (most of my contemporaries in west central and northwest Ohio) who grew up in a village of perhaps 1,500 or fewer population. Everyone in the village was the same. Christian. White. Worker.

That is not the way it is anymore. We live in a multi-cultural time. Even within my Yoga class, not only do I have the “usual suspects” of white Christians, but we have had class members who are Jain, Sikh and Hindu. Oh, also Islam. Probably a few “pagans”, too. That is in a town of fewer than 20,000 people.

The majority in town most likely are those without a god. They live life day-by-day according to the whims of their emotions. “Sinners” as Paul the Apostle would say. People not only not trying to live a moral life, but actually deriding those who do.

Is the problem that fewer people are telling the story of Advent these days or that we in the church are doing such a poor job of it?

One of our pastors has a great heart for children. I wish some of her empathy could be siphoned off into other vessels of human flesh who could use some of that. But she has said every year at this time, “I was worried that the kids would not have Christmas.”

Let me translate for all of you non-Americans who read these words. She means, “I’m afraid that the kids will not get presents.”

Even devout followers of Jesus equate Christmas with receiving presents!

Circling around to the pastor’s comment–I was immediately reminded (as I sat there listening to the rest of his talk) of the Acts 2 church. They added daily to the number of followers–by the way they lived.

We added four people to our membership Sunday. But they all came from other churches. How many people in your groups have been added because they have see a better way to live due to your example?

Maybe we are the cause of the “fewer”?

How Many Missionaries Have You

November 6, 2014

A pastor was asked, “How many missionaries does your church have?”

He replied, “Fifteen hundred.”

The questioner was amazed. “Where are they?” The reply was something like the coffee shop, a law firm, and so on. It led him to map where his congregation’s members worked and lived.

I don’t know if he included outreach missionaries scattered around the nation and world. But his point was, if you are a Jesus-follower, then you are a missionary. “And you will be my witnesses …to the ends of the earth.”

It used to be, and many may still live this way, that we hire a pastor and he (in the old days, always “he”) does the work of the church. The members come on Sunday to hear the choir and pastor give a performance. Then they leave to go to their jobs and homes.

I guess I know many of those people even today.

But Jesus never talked about a special class of people to do his work. He had a core group of disciples we call apostles. They were to make disciples, with the expectation that those disciples would make disciples, and over again.

And he said we would be witnesses. That means we must experience something. And then we tell others about our experience. We don’t go around talking theory. That’s OK in its place. But that’s not the point. The point really is telling people, “This is what I’ve experienced in my life, and you could experience this, too.”

So, after we have experienced God’s blessings, then we are called to be missionaries. It may be in the home, where we work, within the church to seekers who come in, or maybe to the ends of the earth. It all counts.

We do have to take care that we are not all talk. Unlike being a witness in a court case, being a witness to the power of Jesus in our lives means that people can see the whole life. That how we behave is congruent with what we say.

Go, and be a missionary.