Friday, July 29, 2005

In, but not of

My Spanish just isn't as good as it used to be.

For a three-year period, back in the 90's our entire family was living in Mexico City or "Durante tres anos, nosotros vivimos en la Ciudad de Mexico".

It's interesting how over time, our memories become very selective. When some people look back at their childhood, they may remember the good things and forget the bad. An entire eight years of elementary school is often remembered through vivid still photos of friends gathered together like team photos and programs from school plays.

The things I remember now about Mexico was the culture. We really enjoyed the culture: the people, the customs, the music, the food. Ah, the food. Don't be fooled into thinking that Taco Bell somehow represents anything similar to Mexican cuisine. My daughter-in-law, who is a Mexican now living in the US won't even consider eating anything from Taco Bell.

The other thing I remember the most about Mexico and the culture is knowing that I wasn't home. It was a world that I was in, a culture that I was definitely interacting with and something that I would most certainly learn from and enjoy but I wasn't home. The United States was my home and no matter how much we became immersed in Mexico including speaking primarily Spanish rather than English, we still were not "of" Mexico.

Here was a life lesson for me as well as a theological lesson as well.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus prays:
"I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it" (John 17:14-17)

This is a big question, "How can we that follow Jesus be in the world, but not of the world?"

My theological training (which is limited) tells me that the word "world" in this passage is the Greek word, "cosmos" which most often refers to the inhabited earth and the world "system" which is ruled by Satan. This is an easy explanation then on how we are to not be part of the "worldly system" but we should be living a separate, holy life.

My experiences in Mexico however teach me a more experiential truth. We may be in this world now but we long to go back home. That longing to be home should be so real and so present within us that no matter what our experiences, our situations and our present condition, our mind and our being should be "in Christ".

Another good passage that relates to this subject is Romans 12:1-2

In this passage, the Apostle Paul tells that we are to conform ourselves, and our minds, to that of Jesus Christ. While I don't usually quote from the Message Bible (if you are over 40, I don't think it's usually allowed), I remember that this passage is especially appropriate in the modern language, read on...


"So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life--your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life--and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you."

Like I said earlier, my Spanish is not as good as it used to be but that time in Mexico helped me understand that the culture or the world around me may be where I need to spend a lot of my time, but not necessarily my affection. My affection, my attention needs to be fixed on God. If I do this well, He'll help me bring out the best in me and let me become the person He wants me to become.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Ready, Set, Grow

A few years ago, I saw an ad for some Children's books. It was a series called, "Ready, Set, Grow!"

The topic of Christian growth is interesting. In many ways we treat Christian growth like it was series of Children's books. There are steps along the way, certain introductory classes to attend, maybe even a church membership class followed by Baptism.

I don't think that is the model we should be teaching. Or better yet, this is probably not the teaching we should be modeling.

Early in my Christian walk, my pastor told me that true discipleship is more easily caught than taught. We are living in a world that is exploding with information. We have more opportunities for good Bible study material, self-improvement books on being a better Christian dad, mom, husband, wife and even Pastor than we ever thought we needed.

However, discipleship is not to be a book study, it is to be a road.

Jesus said, "Follow me". When we follow we will be on "el camino nuevo" or the new road. A road that has danger, true obstacles and pitfalls. We need to follow Jesus however to become like Him. In that process we become disciples.

But who is a disciple? How are to we to know if we are becoming a disciple and how do we make disciples? Well, in Luke 6:40 Jesus says that a disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher (WEB)

Becoming like Jesus is obviously not a quick process. It is however well worth the effort. Jesus spent a little over three years in public ministry. During that time he taught his disciples about mercy, about heaven, about character, about money, about politics and about priorities. He didn't just teach them theory or interesting models of self-improvement. He taught them truth.

Pretty real stuff. Well worth the effort.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Long Live the Coach

Bill McCartney...Oops sorry, Coach Bill McCartney started Promise Keepers in 1990, based on seven simple promises and the goal of changing men to fully committed disciples of Jesus Christ and the stated vision of "Transforming Men Worldwide"

Along the way, I've attended three Promise Keepers Conferences. Two in Detroit (1995 and 1996) and one in Cleveland (2002). My wife now smiles when we look back at one of those conferences. You see, my intentions were good back in 1996 when I attended my second PK Conference. I had an office in London but also one in the Detroit area with a wife and two teenagers. To make a long story short, in midst of a two year assignment with Ford with one office in London and one family in Detroit, I made it back one weekend and ended up spending about two full days with a bunch of guys and then left Sunday night for London.

My wife asked me, "So, when you go to these Promise Keepers meetings, do they talk about how to improve your relationship with your wife and children?" I don't even remember my reply, she had me.

So I've learned from my past and hopefully have become a little better over time.

That's really what PK is about. I know there has been talk about PK losing its effectiveness and some churches have discouraged some of the PK conferences and are focusing on other Men's activities.

That's too bad. Back when the Coach was still active with Promise keepers he would share that there is a special dynamic when men come together to honor Jesus Christ. He knew that the PK conferences would help guys discover what it means to be godly men. He took the flack for leading a very conservative, male focused organization because he knew that men had to take a stand for God in their marriages, families, churches, and communities.

Sometimes it works...you attend a men's conference and revival breaks out--even if it is in the heart of just one guy. These guys pictured here are just a bunch of guys from my church. My guys...guys that want to be a little more like Jesus and aren't afraid to take a stand for God in their marriages, families, church and their community.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Hope for Hannah: Part Two


To see Hannah, it's difficult to understand how much her condition has improved. Her parents, Stan and Cindy had to really take Hannah's treatment and even her therapy into their own hands. The combination of the Williams syndrome and Batten's Disease had the doctors stumped. With the help of a sympathetic doctor, when others seemed resigned to the belief that she was beyond help, Stan and Cindy experimented and scientifically tested different treatments that included vitamins, supplements and essential oils.

Hannah's unique therapy co-developed by her mom and dad and synthesized by an MD has actually reversed some of Hannah's earlier maladies. Her hands and feet no longer turn blue, she is sleeping much more normally and her myocloic seizures have been reduced to a point to where they are no longer as painful and life-threatening.

Stan and Cindy believe that God has used Hannah's afflictions to demonstrate His faithfulness in Hannah's life so that Hannah life and story would be a testimony to the Lord. Hannah's neurologist after her recent hospital stay to install a feeding button in her stomach said that Hannah had improved to an earlier baseline that he saw when he saw her in the Fall.

Hannah's progress is significant but expensive. At the same time, Stan and Cindy are more determined than ever to continue with the special vitamin treatments and the cost of the metabolite that needs to be synthesized for Hannah. Hannah would have almost certainly died some time ago if it were not for God's help and her parents' therapeutic intervention.

The help and improvement have been significant and the family is in the process of working on a medical publication which will document the four-and-a-half years of pain staking care of an 'affected' Hannah and now over two years in theorizing, implementing and documenting the improvement in Hannah's condition which, they hope and God willing, will lead to the commencement of trials for use of the metabolite in other affected children, providing hope and relief for these kids and their families.


One of the latest developments is the interest by Joni Erickson Tada. Joni is the founder of Joni and Friends, an organization accelerating Christian ministry in the disability community. A diving accident in 1967 left Mrs. Tada a quadriplegic in a wheelchair, unable to use her hands. During two years of rehabilitation, she spent long months learning how to paint with a brush between her teeth. Her high detail fine art paintings and prints are sought after and collected.

Joni and Friends is a not-for-profit Christian organization dedicated to accelerating Christian ministry in the disability community. They advocate a biblical response toward disabilities, both visible and invisible; they provide opportunities for disability awareness; they educate the church community in practical ways of serving disabled persons; and they assist persons with disabilities in their progress toward independence and fulfillment.

Joni's ministry may be able to provide some of the funding necessary to continue the treatments and necessary symetabolite metabolite for Hannah. With some help in the funding, Stan and Cindy are encouraged to think that the Help for Hannah will end up becoming a help for many children and parents through the world.

Friday, July 22, 2005

How's your "Religion" working for you?

That title "How's your Religion working for you" was borrowed from Peter Hiett, the author of a new book titled, "Dance Lessons for Zombies". I had a chance to meet Peter (my paperback book was not only a gift but he gave me his autograph!) and let him know I enjoyed his first book as well.

So how is your religion working for you? One of the verses that I read all too infrequently is in Colossians. It says in Col 2:20-23 (ESV), "If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations "Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch"(referring to things that all perish as they are used) Aaccording to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh." What I think this verse is telling us is that all too often, we find ourselves falling into legalism. This can be true not only of the usual suspects (you know the denominations I'm talking about), but also some of our more contemporary, non-denominational, non-traditional churches as well.

If we think that doing all the right stuff is somehow going to get us closer to heaven, we have missed the point. Jesus came because "Religion" wasn't going to get us there. If keeping the faith, staying faithful to the wife, not cheating on your taxes and not voting democrat (I kid of course) could get us to heaven, there would be no reason for Jesus to die for our sins and exchange our unrighteousness for His righteousness.

You know, the sad thing is that if people could really understand that they are set free two things I predict would happen. First off, they would be happy. No, really happy! This is why we are to be joyful because we already know that we are accepted and counted as a member of the family. Secondly, we would be more willing to go the distance, go for the gold ring, become all that God wants us to become.

Peter Hiett says this of course much better than I could. That's why gets paid to write and I Blog. We as people that are called by his name should understand that what we have in Christ is so much more than religion, so much more than keeping the law.

So how is your Religion working for you?

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Hope for Hannah: Part One


I had a great breakfast meeting this morning.

Pastor Bob sent me an email and asked if I would join him at Paneras to meet with the Szymanski Family, Stan and Cindy with their children Joshua (age 10) and Hannah (age 8). I know Hannah. Hannah is very small for her age, permanently confined to a wheel chair, requires the constant love and attention of her parents and is a story of God's faithfulness and provision.

When her parents had to deal with what was Hannah's progressively worsening condition (but they found ways to turn that around-see Hope for Hannah: Part Two!), they have also had to learn to deal with what it means to become a family of the disabled. I listened in ernest as they told me of the treatments, the breakthroughs in finding vitamins that actually reduce some of Hannah's suffering and the trips and weeks in the hospital that work not only days but weeks at a time.

I found out that her disease has a name; actually two names: Williams Syndrome and Batten Disease. She is a "one-in-two-billion" child as her dad told me that there will be more people that die of choking on French fries then these two diseases.

What struck me however, wasn't the technicalities of a family dealing with a disabled child but what Stan and Cindy told me about what should be an opportunity for the church. Like many people, I don't think that we in the church want to avoid the disabled, we just don't know what we are to do. Fortunately for those that want to know, Jesus gave us some advice. He said, 'Go out quickly into the streets and the alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled (obviously before our PC language became important), the blind and the lame" (Luke 14:21). These are the people that are invited to the great banquet.

One of the words of advice that Hannah's family gave Pastor Bob and me were to make sure that we tried to find ways to truely engage the families of the disabled. They need angels that can help. Angels that can come and help for an hour, an afternoon or even a day. Many of the families come to church and need to sit with their son or daughter or family member in the hallways or in the lobby. Church becomes a difficult place as we've made sure that we've become "accessible" but that is typically the building, not the people inside.

With over 600 million people in the world that have disabilities that are in need of a friend according to Joni and Friends, an international Christian Ministry with a focus of helping the disabled. If we are the Body of Christ, we can and should be reaching out to them.

If you are interested in helping Hannah. Go to the family website at www.stashsongs.com

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

To Start, what is the Ashrie?

The Ashrei is the Hebrew word used typically to describe Psalm 145. Psalm 145 is in the original Hebrew an alphabetical acrostic with each verse starting with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. King David who used this literary device in speaking of God had good company. In the book of Isaiah, the Lord Almighty says he is the First and the Last (Isa 41:4, 44:6;48:12). Jesus applies the same name to Himself - the Almighty: Greek pantokrator, pan-tok-rat'-ore; meaning the all-ruling, God (as absolute and universal sovereign), Omnipotent. and then in the Book of Revelation: "I am the Alpha and the Omega" says the Lord God, "who is, and who was and who is to come. The Almighty" (Rev 1:8, 21:6)

I am not a Hebrew scholar, but I love the use of this poetic device, love knowing that God is before all, created all and rules all. On a simpler note, I have enjoyed the poetic beauty of Psalm 145, even in its English Translation:

Psalm 145 NIV (New International Version)

A psalm of praise.

Of David.

  1. I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever.
  2. Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever.
  3. Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.
  4. One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts.
  5. They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty, and I will meditate on your wonderful works.
  6. They will tell of the power of your awesome works, and I will proclaim your great deeds.
  7. They will celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.
  8. The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.
  9. The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.
  10. All you have made will praise you, O LORD; your saints will extol you.
  11. They will tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might,
  12. so that all men may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
  13. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations. The LORD is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made.
  14. The LORD upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down.
  15. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time.
  16. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.
  17. The LORD is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made.
  18. The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.
  19. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them.
  20. The LORD watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.
  21. My mouth will speak in praise of the LORD. Let every creature praise his holy name for ever and ever.

Amen..God is good. God is powerful. God is righteous and He is faithful

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