24 December 2009

Reposted emails: The Mark of a Christian?

Okay, I admit it. I sometimes get annoyed by the dozens of emails I receive telling me that I have to forward a post to at least 12 people or I am not a real Christian or that I am ashamed of Jesus. Today, someone's facebook status read:

"They may want to take Christ out of Christmas, but they can never take Christ out of me. If you are proud to be a Christian and are not ashamed of Christ then post this as your status for 1 day as a light to the world. Most people will be to (sic) ashamed or scared to do this. This was posted by a friend. If you agree, copy and paste to your wall."

Before I go on, let me state a few things clearly. I am exceedingly grateful for the gift God offered me that first Christmas. I know that I am nothing apart from Christ. However, on principle, I never forward these types of posts. Here is the reason; forwarding an email or reposting a facebook status is not the mark of a Christian; rather, it is love for others (John 13:34-35).

Francis Schaeffer, who wrote the brief, but influential, "The Mark of the Christian" stated it this way, "What then shall we conclude but that as the Samaritan loved the wounded man, we as Christians are called upon to love all men as neighbors, loving them as ourselves. Second, that we are to love all true Christian brothers in a way that the world may observe. This means showing love to our brother in the midst of our differences
great or small loving our brothers when it costs us something, loving them even under times of tremendous emotional tension, loving them in a way the world can see. In short, we are to practice and exhibit the holiness of God and the love of God, for without this we grieve the Holy Spirit.

and the unity it attests to is the mark Christ gave Christians to wear before the world. Only with this mark may the world know that Christians are indeed Christians and that Jesus was sent by the Father."

So, rather than forwarding that email, bring a meal for a co-worker you really don't like, go shovel your neighbor's walk, or spend some time at a youth center. I promise these activities will be more luminous to the world than a mass email.

You can read The Mark of the Christian here.

22 December 2009

Word and Deed

In reading the Gospels, I am regularly struck by the power of Jesus words. As I posted recently, words are powerful and Jesus' are particularly so. But as I read John 6 this morning, I was struck by Jesus' actions. I think a key to understanding this is found in verse 26. "Jesus answered them, Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves." It appears many were first drawn to Christ because of what He did for them. This allowed the opportunity to share His words. He fed them, body and spirit.

The early church understood this message. In Acts 6, the apostles (elders?) called together all the disciples and they appointed 7 brothers (deacons?) to minister to the physical needs of the widows-both Hebrew and Greek. They recognized this as an essential part of the growth of the early church.

We too, are called to minister to others by serving them. Consider Isaiah 58:6-10:
“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.

The whole book of James also calls us to minister to others. James 2:14-16 reads "What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?"

We are to "pour ourselves out" for others. It is true that it is by grace alone that we are saved, not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9). With that said, although our works do not save us, they may open a door for us to introduce others to Christ and so lead them to a saving faith. So let us serve others as we share with them about the love of Jesus.

16 December 2009

God's Timing

God is in the details- Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Tomorrow morning, my mother and I will board a plane for New York City to pick up Tessa who will be arriving on a plane from Africa. We should arrive about two hours before Tessa. We will leave 6 hours after we arrive. Back to Minneapolis--an additional passenger in tow. There are many details, but God is in control of them.

Consider the last several months--God has been ever present. Last summer, we felt a sense of urgency to get our home study done quickly, but God slowed the process. If He hadn't, we would not have been able to adopt Tessa. In October, we were given a much quicker embassy date than we anticipated. Later, because of Heather's cancer, we had to adjust some of our paperwork--in fact, it had to go through 4 different federal offices. We were told that the average time for processing on the second step was 2.5 months. Ours took about 2 weeks. I was told the third step would take 2-4 weeks. Ours took 4 days. We had to rely entirely on God to provide an embassy date for getting Tessa's visa the following day. It was given.

Another unusual circumstance was that our social worker was supposed to come back to the USA last week. Due to unforeseen circumstances (another child's visa not coming through), she stayed in Africa an additional week. We were still unsure because the flights from Africa to the USA didn't fit with our her schedule. In fact, she emailed Heather earlier in the week and said "I just don't know how that I can make this work, I am sorry." Things changed and she adjusted her schedule again. This provided enough time to get Tessa's paperwork through 3 different offices. Barrier after barrier has been knocked down. Heather spoke with a travel agent yesterday who marveled at the rapidity of our process the mercurial changes and asked how it happened. She replied, "we have over 100 people praying for us."

I have been jointly praying for God's timing, but also a December 17th embassy date, fully aware of the hurdles, indeed the earthly impossibility, of it happening. The heavenly irony is that we didn't get a date on the 17th, we got one on the 16th, which I believe was God's clear message to me that He loves me, he loves Tessa, but that He is in control of the clock.

We couldn't do it.
Our social worker couldn't do it.
Only God could.
And He Did.

For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
it will surely come; it will not delay.
-Habakkuk 2:3

10 December 2009

Waxing Contemplative

Wax--to grow or become as specified.

A conversation with some fellow men this morning has had me considering changes God takes us through. As an introvert, one stated that his nature leads him to desire solitude. As a salesman, he does not fit their typical gregarious personality, yet still thrives in the role. Before his conversion, he preferred quiet weekends at home, yet as he has grown in his faith, he has recognized the benefit of social engagement, indeed thriving during busy weekends spent with fellow believers.

I am opposite. Most of my life has been spent in the pursuit of others, of relationships. I have always believed that I grow most in community. Unfortunately, this extroverted tendency has led me to downplay the necessity of social reprieve and contemplation.

Cancer has forced isolation upon me. I have much less opportunity to interact with others, which carries with it a certain sadness. Most of the time, I notice my countenance darken the longer the isolation persists. This feeling is compounded as my mother-in-law helps us out because my wife, an introvert, has many of her social needs met during the day. The mother-in-law/cancer combination leaves little her with little leftover social energy.

An increased desire for contemplation was an unexpected gift. I use this God-given time to mull things over. I am able to process God's word and how it relates to my life. I am able to pray for God's will and his guidance. I pray that God uses these times as a way to deepen my faith and to draw my closer to Him and, somewhat ironically, to others.

Jesus spent much of his adult ministry literally surrounded by people, pressing in from every side. He poured His lives into them. He poured His life out for them. Yet, there is unmistakable evidence that he found time away, time to contemplate and pray. Christ recognized the importance of time alone with His father; I pray that I continue to learn this lesson.

And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.-Mark 1:35

08 December 2009

You Never Let Go

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
Your perfect love is casting out fear
And even when I’m caught in the middle of the storms of this life
I won’t turn back
I know You are near

And I will fear no evil
For my God is with me
And if my God is with me
Whom then shall I fear?
Whom then shall I fear?

Oh no, You never let go
Through the calm and through the storm
Oh no, You never let go
In every high and every low
Oh no, You never let go
Lord, You never let go of me

And I can see a light that is coming for the heart that holds on
A glorious light beyond all compare
And there will be an end to these troubles
But until that day comes
We’ll live to know You here on the earth

Yes, I can see a light that is coming for the heart that holds on
And there will be an end to these troubles
But until that day comes
Still I will praise You, still I will praise You

07 December 2009

He knows

She has no idea who we are yet. She lives out her daily routine under the watchful care of her nannies, oblivious to the fact of how her life will change in a few short weeks. I suspect that her life is one of regularity now, encompassed by some interaction with the other orphans and the nannies, but rarely with the outside world, apart from the occasionally annoying flashbulb popping in her face.

We have some idea of who she is. We live out our lives in a daily routine, now occupied by chemotherapy, patient seeing, daily lessons and play, oblivious of how our lives will change. We may feel as though our lives have some regularity (if nothing else, chemotherapy and the additional treatments add a twisted sort of routine). We interact with friends, with our church, and with doctors. We wait with excited anticipation for her arrival, yet not know when that will be.

God, in His omniscience, knows her and knows us...intimately. He knows when she will be here. He knows how our routines will mesh. He knows how she will graft into our family tree. What, for us, is exciting and at times anxiety provoking, He already has planned out for our good. He knows.

All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.-Psalm 139:16b (NIV)