Archive for March, 2009

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David went a little off-topic for Friday’s message at Seward Church. Instead of the usual story of grace this week focused more on faithfulness and community, which does connect with grace!

In John 13:34 Jesus commands the disciples to love one another in the same way that He has loved us.  This is the basis for a community that serves Christ and functions well together both internally and externally.  David shared an image of a lighthouse (similar to this) which I had never thought of before. Jesus is the light that is shining out across the sea, serving as a beacon for all to see.  But it takes people (in community) to go out and be the light touching lives and rescuing or searching out people to help draw them into the lighthouse.  Does that make sense to you?

In  Ezra (3:1,8-9) we see that the Isrealites have placed their faith in God again.  Building the temple was their expression of faith.  Building the temple or a church also represents the people coming together in a community.  All believers should come together and be made more holy (sanctified) as seen in John 17:17-22.    Ephesians4:3 says that we should do everything to keep the bonds of peace.  David really emphasised that community is a gift not a right.  As a gift we also have to work to stay unified – but also let the Spirit do its powerful work in us.

A little more controversial statement is that the community is strengthened not by looking at each other but by looking towards Jesus for His strength.  We are all imperfect beings and will annoy the heck out of each other – which could cause problems.  When we place Jesus at the center we tend to focus more on His love and grace for each one of us.  We also need to make sure that the focus doesn’t get turned towards the community we are trying to serve, because then we become all about service – not Jesus.

We all need or want to be in a community and having friends isn’t a problem but a sign of maturity.  In Genesis 2:18 God realized that man couldn’t do everything by himself – so He created the woman.  David extrapolated that to be that we shouldn’t be trying to do good works alone (individually or as a married couple) but together within the community of our church.  Community is by no means easy (as I mentioned above), I’m sure we all annoy each other!  But being in a community and having to deal with the idiosyncrasies of others helps draw us closer into the heart of God.  I’m sure we annoy Him alot!  Ultimately, community makes us better people.

While building the temple, the Israelites ran into some conflict.  Basically the king withdrew their building permits and made it illegal for them to keep working.   Ezra 4:17-21 makes it clear that soldiers were sent to stop the building process. Even though they were given clear direction by God to build the temple, the Israelites caved in to the pressure.  If construction was a sign of faithfulness, then halting construction was a sign of faithlessness.  They were concerned about their relative safety and not focused on God’s Safety.

Similarly if the church today focuses on self-preservation above following God’s calling they are acting without faith.  You can read many stories of Christians around the world standing up admist persecution and losing everything, even their life.  Almost as bad is when the church focuses only on building itself up.  Building new gyms, adding expensive stained glass, creating church schools or home-school co-ops, and forgetting to focus on the external community.  Building a fitness center within a church campus says two things – 1) community we don’t want to smell your sweat or touch your machines and 2) God you are unable to protect us from those “evil” people who live out there.  Both of these are false.  David shared an interesting analogy with manure.  Manure is an excellent fertilizer, but only when spread out across an entire field.  When kept in a manure pit it will actually kill all the grass around it, not too mention that it reeks!  Christians are like manure – we are best when we are spread out around town.

The anaolgy breaks down a little bit because we are actually at our best when we are spread out in community with other Christians who can love and support our endeavors. But the point of the analogy is pretty clear.  Again, Jesus must be at the center of our field – maybe He is the manure spreader!

Even when we forsake or forget about Him, God continues to be faithful to us.  God really wanted a place for His people to come together in worship to Him, He wanted the temple built.  In Ezra 5:1-2 we see that Haggai and Zechariah were sent to kick the Israelites back into gear. They began rebuilding the temple.  The Book of Zechariah captures some of the prophesy, specifically 4:6-7 which includes the phrase – “Grace, Grace to It.” The NIV says, “God Bless It.”  Even after turning their back on Him, God gave them a second chance.  He has given us a second chance and the ultimate act of grace by letting His Son die for our sins.

We finished the evening with communion – the ultimate symbol of Christ’s life and death and a symbol of community. David said, “Communion is an act of kneeling together and looking at Christ.”  As 1 Corinthians 11:17-26 says, “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

Let us each proclaim the love of God to all we meet and rely on God and the community He has given us to love those who are hard to love.

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The title of the book conjured up images of Native Americans and baseball at first thought – not leadership. But that is what Seth Godin wants you to come away with in his most recent book Tribes: We need You to Lead Us.

It makes sense once you think about it a successful leader has a group of followers or a tribe behind him/her. Godin defines a tribe as a “group of people, large or small, who are connected to one another, a leader, and an idea. ” The main point of this book is that leaders, true leaders, can come from anywhere and don’t have to have formal power in an organization.  Central to that idea is that leaders lead, not manage their tribe.

Written in 2008, the book incorporates social networking ideas and even talks about then-presidential candidate Obama and his tribe.  It is pretty chopping and he illustrates his points with anecdotal stories – some making more sense and relevance than others.  There are not really any chapters or an outline to follow, but lots of good one-liner inspirations.  Clearly not a typical self-help or checklist book many of his points are relevant.

Leading from where you are

Taking risks and being willing to fail

Not accepting status quo and asking questions

Go first step out in faith and have no fear

This is a fairly quick read with less than 150 pages.  Because of that I would recommend it to others interested in persaonl growth and leadership.

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Is it possible to have both peace and justice at the same time? Yes, but not always.

We have some great historical examples of where peace reigned and justice prevailed. Tragically, there are probably more examples of when this didn’t occur.

The most recent and relevant is related to Sudan and the ongoing extermination of the Darfuri people.

What are Peace & Justice?

PeaceFor our purposes, peace is a freedom from civil disturbance a state of security or order within a community provided for by law or custom or a state or period of mutual concord between governments as in a pact or agreement to end hostilities between those who have been at war or in a state of enmity. (Webster)

Justiceis the concept of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, natural law, fairness and equity. (Wikipedia)

So in the case of Darfur, peace would be the absence of conflict, improved security and safety around refugee camps, and a return of the refugees to their original homes without a fear of violence.  Justice would be the prosecution and imprisonment of individuals involved in illegal activities, such as rape, murder, pillaging, arson, and other similar atrocities.

Advocates around the world have been actively seeking a combination of the two to occur in the Texas sized province of Darfur in Western Sudan.  However, at times their actions and advocacy have not always aligned with the best interests of the refugees and aid workers.  I am just as guilty as the next advocate in this instance.  We have been advocating for peace since 2003 and haven’t had any real success in that regard.

Governments around the world took action… but failed the people of Darfur with their token responses.  We send peacekeepers without proper equipment, underfund them, and understaff them – setting them up for failure yet again.  What is the purpose of documenting atrocities instead of preventing them?  Yes, you must document a crime to prosecute it… but how many must die in the process?

In the past few weeks the International Criminal Court issued an indictment for the President of Sudan.  The first time such an indictment has been issued for a sitting head of state.  It may also be the first time that it is clearly a head of state allowing crimes against humanity and war crimes to occur.  Read more at the ICC’s Darfur Page.

This indictment was a clear step toward justice and holding an individual accountable for the actions they knowingly allowed to occur.  The debate in many circles is… was that a wise move?

I don’t know claim to know everything but there definitely are some problems related to this.  Everyone knew that after the indictment all the humanitarian aid workers would be either kicked out or harrased and that came to pass.  Everyone also knew that the indictment is almost impossible to enforce – Sudan and many of its closest allies are not signators (nor is the US) on the charter of the ICC.  This means that we and they have no responsibility to act on its warrants.  The president is fairly safe to travel around within those countries without risking arrest.  It is almost impossible to arrest him in Sudan because he has popular support within the capital and much of north Sudan.

So why go after justice knowing that it will be hard to serve and create everything but peace? I agree it should give Darfuri people hope that ultimately justice will be served and their death and suffering will be vindicated.  I can’t imagine that will mean much as they continue to suffer each day.

Jim Wallis gives a clear account of what has happened since the ICC indictment:

Over the past few weeks, 13 international humanitarian organizations have been expelled from Sudan at the dictate of Omar al-Bashir, president of Sudan. These actions came soon after the International Criminal Court handed down an indictment of al-Bashir and issued a warrant for his arrest for crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in Darfur. As a result, 1.1 million Darfuris are without food, 1.5 million without health care, and more than 1 million without access to clean drinking water. If there was any doubt as to whether or not he was truly acting in the best interest of his people, his use of food and water as weapons of war show that he just does not care about the people of Darfur.

and continues

With the expulsion of these humanitarian organizations, al-Bashir has shown that he has no interest in the well-being of the people of Darfur or in bringing piece. These actions show that once again there comes a time when a political leader has so violated standards of international law and morality that he should no longer be treated as a sovereign, even in his own country, but as a criminal. Actions like this show that he should no longer be president, but prosecuted and brought to justice like the international fugitive of the law he now is. If he was serious about peace and progress, the first thing he should do is welcome the aid organizations back into his country, and without that he has ensured that this warrant will be pursued.

There is no doubt that if we continue to watch there will be neither peace nor justice.  We must act for both. Hoping and praying that somewhere along the way somebody with power will stand up and say ENOUGH and take immediate action that will end the pain and suffering of millions of innocent children, women, and men.

Other good reads include

ICC Not as stupid as the cynics may have thought

If Not Peace, Then Justice

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This is part of a recent ad campaign from World Vision. It came to me via Christianity Today’s daily news e-mail.  I thought it was thoughtful and though provoking.

What are your thoughts?

Jesus rescuing Adam and Eve from the grave
Image by wwhyte1968 via Flickr

Who are you? That always seems like a tough question – are you American, Somali, your father’s son, a husband, brother… who are you really?

During the time that 2 Chronicles 1 Chronicles was written the Jews were living in exile and were beginning to forget their heritage and the important stories of their history.  Ezra begins the book with a geneology – 9 chapters long from Adam all the way to David.

Remember last week when Josiah found the law?  Ezra was also bringing back the ideas surrounding the covenant made in Genesis 15.  Part of the covenant’s promise was that God would continue to provide for the Israelites as long as they followed His dictates.   The covenant was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus’ death (Is 53:5).  We need to remember that the covenant is both relational and legal.

Sometimes we let things get in the way of God’s work in our lives.  For example by Jesus’ day the Jews were creating all types of rules and laws to “help” people follow God.  Ultimately, these had the opposite affect placing barriers in the way of a relationship with God.

We can find great hope in this Hebrews passage (1:1-5)

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

For to which of the angels did God ever say,

“You are my Son, today I have begotten you”?

Or again,

“I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”?

Jesus is the King forever. He iniaited the original covenant and fulfilled it. Ezra was trying to bring the Israelites back to a story of Grace through the covenant.

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"The Jews' Passover"—facsimile of a ...
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This is actually a week late.  It is from March 6th.  Stay tuned for the 13th’s recap.

Second Kings is full of stories about kings, obviously.  Sadly it is a story of human kings who continue to screw up on a regular basis.  These kings ultimately face justice for their actions.  But during Friday night’s service in which Tim shared the story of grace from 2 Kings we focused on a king who was doing a lot of the right things.

King Josiah’s story is found in 2 Kings 22-24.  He was a pretty young king at 8 years old.  We are told that at age 16 he was seeking after God and by age 20 was waging military campaigns to expand the southern kingdom’s boundaries – into the northern kingdom.  Part of this campaign was dismantling idolatry,  especially temple prostitution.  When he was 26 some of his administration rediscovered the Law (vs 8-11).

This was a pretty big deal because God’s people had strayed pretty far from God’s desires and the law included judgement – the wrath of God.  Josiah was quite distraught and tore his clothes.  He then sought to restore God’s order throughout the kingdom.  It took between 6-8 years to destroy all the idols.

King Josiah even went so far as to restore the celebration of Passover (23:21), which for the Jewish people was the centerpiece of grace in their year and lives.  David, a man after God’s own heart, didn’t even really celebrate the Passover. It seems similar to many of the holidays we celebrate today – like Memorial Day or even Easter.  It is just another day on the calendar that we mark by getting some time off work.

Sadly, we see in verse 26 that this wasn’t enough.

Nevertheless, the LORD did not turn away from the heat of his fierce anger, which burned against Judah because of all that Manasseh had done to provoke him to anger.

For the Jewish people of the time and even today, the Messiah is seen as a person who will come and be an earthly king.  You can see this in some of the Gospel stories where Jesus was treated as a conquerer coming to overthrow the Roman government.  Unknowingly, the Romans called Him King of the Jews at His death.  Truthfully, Jesus was the promised King that would offer hope and salvation to the Jews – but they rejected Him.  Jesus also represents the perfect and final Passover for the Jewish people.

Ultimately God’s wrath came down on the Israelites and they were forced into exile for their sins.  Sin is always causing problems – putting us into exile from God.  Adam and Eve were “exiled” from the Garden of Eden and we continue to put sin between ourselves and God.  We will never be perfect while we walk the earth, but when we knowingly sin we are intentionally turing our back and walking away from Him.  When you sin you are saying that the object of your sin is worth more than God and you elevate it to a position of power in your life.  You can only have one God.

He is always there to accept and love us when we turn to Him in repentance.  We can see this in 22:18-19

Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the LORD, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard: Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the LORD when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people, that they would become accursed and laid waste, and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the LORD.

Jesus is from the lineage of earthly Kings (Matthew 1) and the son of God, representing our eternal King who will lead us away from exile.

Jesus has freed us from the dictates of the law and fulfilled the promises made to the Isrealites.  He offers us freedom, grace, and love.   Will you accept it today?

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A friend commented that Not For Sale was available for free as an audiobook so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to “read” this compelling book I had heard about before.  So I downloaded it and put off my normal podcast material for the 8 hours it took to listen.  I am glad I did.

Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade–and How We Can Fight It shares some powerful stories about getting children, women, and even men who get caught up in forced labor – as laborers, prostitutes, child soldiers, and other gruesome situations.    The book tells stories from around the world (including the United States) of both the slaves and the abolitionists who are working to free slaves and prevent future slavery.

Sadly, most people think slavery ended in the 1800’s but some researchers suggest that there are actually more slaves today than at any point during the African slave trade.  As you can tell this is a cause that I care deeply about so I was a little biased by the book.  I think it is a short and relatively easy read and could change the way you look at the world and those “foreigners” at your local restaurant.

I appreciated that the book wasn’t just tales of sorrow and misery but that each chapter also shared the hope and beauty of freedom.   There are a lot of organizations working to end human trafficking and this book shares some of their stories.  It is a “Christian” book but it doesn’t shove Christianity down your throat – just stories.

The biggest thing that I didn’t like about the book was how the stories were interwoven.  You would be reading about one person then pause for a little bit about another and then back and forth.  This was a little confusing in the audio format, but probably made more sense in the written text.

I encourage you to read the book and take action.  The book has an excellent and helpful companion website for the Not For Sale Campaign.  The site offers relevant news, actions to take, and other was to get involved including following their blog.

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