Sep 5, 2009

From the Amsterdam KLM Business Lounge...The God Who is Never Late

Sometimes it seems like He is too slow.  Other times it seems as if He doesn't care or He is disinterested in our affairs.  But is He?  Not so according to His Word and His interaction with the faithful.  In His time He makes all things beautiful.

Imagine Mary and Martha in the Gospel of John (John 11).  Their brother Lazarus, a great JC fan and friend falls ill.  All the while Martha and Mary wait, pray, peer out the window hoping against hope to catch a glimpse of Jesus.   They imagine Him strutting toward their home with an urgency in his step.  A cloud of dust rises behind Him as the twelve disciples travelling with him try to keep pace. 

Surely, Lazarus the loyal friend deserves this kind of attention from Jesus, doesn't he?  But wait a minute, it is all just a dream.  Jesus is no where to be seen.

Eventually Lazarus succumbs to the sickness and dies. 

Maybe now Jesus will show up.  Not so much for the sake of Lazarus but for that of his sisters.   Afterall many Jews from Jerusalem and surrounding regions have heard about his death and they are coming to console the two.  Why not Jesus?

Well, He doesn't show up the first, second or burrial day.  The sisters feel hopeless.  All the lights seem to have flirkered out.  Their anticipation turns to despair.  Jesus has let them down.   It all seems lost. 

At one point they had announced to everybody...no, they had boasted to everybody...that Lazarus was a great friend of Jesus.  "The two are great buddies and hang out together alot," they boasted to everybody who would come by.  "We know by now He has heard Lazarus is ill and He is on His way."  All that needs to happen for their brother is for Jesus to show up, wave His hand, and voila, their brother is well again. 

But now they feel embarrassed. Jesus is a no show.  He is too late...or isn't He? 

Not quite.  Not according to Jesus Himself.  He was waiting for the right hour and it wasn't what Mary and Martha thought it was.  To Him, the right hour was after Lazarus is dead.  The right hour was what would bring the most glory to God not simply what would cure His friend.  He knew His priorities and He wasn't about to change things to save face for the sisters.

He says to the disciples, "Lazarus is dead, and I am glad...(Did He just say that He is glad?)...for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him." What?  Go to Him...after He is dead?

That is right.  After He is dead.  And not just after He is dead, He is burried.  He is infact decomposing.  It has been four days since He was burried, for crying out loud. 

But why now?  Because this is the moment that will bring the most glory to God.  And so, Jesus finally shows up.  "Your brother will rise again." He announces to Martha. "I am the ressurection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.  Do you believe this?"

"Jesus, are you serious about this?"  She ponders carefully before openning her mouth with a politically correct response.  She doesn't want to allienate Jesus.  "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day," she says. 

But then Jesus presses her with that look in His eye to be more precise.  He wants committed belief.    But in her mind, He has let her down already and she doesn't want to raise her hopes too high.  She still sticks to her guns and keeps off the mention of the resurrection. "Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world."

Well, we know what transpires.  With Jesus' one command, "Lazarus, come forth!"  The dead man comes out walking.  Yes, this is the moment that would bring God the most glory. It was the right hour and the right place.  Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?"

That is our God. 

So, how did we do on our fundraising for Burundi?  ..Above and beyond...$ 24,000 we raised in six days. What is more, today out of Minneapolis we had a very comfortable flight :).  Is that divine favor or what?  That is how come I am sitted here in the KLM lounge, sipping on a cup of tea and munching on a cookie while I write this blog. 

And there is a really cool story that I want to tell you later.  Something that I had been too shy to post on here earlier, not wanting to appear presumptious.  God did it anyway.  You don't want to miss.  Only our Father does these kind of things.  Subscribe to this blog so that when I make the next post, you get to be the first to read it.  Will you?  On the way to Burundi...Preaching Jesus as we go.

Sep 2, 2009

Three Days and Counting---Joseph and Sophia-Like Belief

Early in the summer, Sunday June 14th, I spoke to 1st through 4th grade kids at Westwood community Church. Their teachers had told me the kids wanted to give their summer offerings to support our mission to Burundi and wanted to know more about it.

During my sharing I highlighted to them Jesus' love for the world and for Burundi in particular. I told them with the help of pictures about our work and about the many kids in Africa who come to hear the message of Jesus at our Festivals of Hope.

I challenged them to realize that they can make a difference in the lives of fellow kids across the world. "In our case," I said, "it takes just a $ 1.50 to sponsor a kid in Burundi to come and hear the Good News of Jesus at the Festival of Hope."

When I asked them who had a $ 1.50 in their piggy bank, all of them raised their hands. During question and answer time one cute kid asked if he can give all his piggy-bank savings to sponsor other kids to hear the good news of Jesus.

"Sure," I said. "Go and discuss it with your parents and if they say it is o.k., Jesus will be very pleased with your generosity."

Well, throughout the summer these kids at Westwood have kept giving every Sunday toward our outreach in Burundi. At the beginning of the month of August we got their first check of over $ 400. I am told to expect another $ 300 or so from them from their August offerings. But that is not all...

On Monday this week I got a call from Westwood accounting department that two kids, Joseph and Sophia, had placed in the kids offering $ 500. I was totally blown away. I strongly suspect the two went and discussed with their parents about giving their entire piggy-bank savings to sponsor other kids in Burundi to come and hear about Jesus.

Joseph and Sophia's generosity, and that of the entire kids church at Westwood, got me thinking about two stories in the gospels. One is that of the rich young ruler. The other, of Jesus rebuking the disciples for obstructing the little children from Him. In Mark's gospel, the two stories follow each other (Mark 10).

The young ruler was zealous for God, he worked hard to please God. He tried to become righteous by obedience to the law – but he had not submitted to God’s righteousness; he had not yet believed like a little child. His possessions stood in the way to eternal life. Jesus said to him "one thing you lack...;"

But then how many commands does He give? Count them! There are five imperative verbs in this sentence: "go and sell all you possess, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." Go! Sell! Give! Come! Follow!

The ruler must do one thing to have eternal life; he needs to follow Jesus. But he can’t follow Jesus while still a slave to his possessions. As Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, "You cannot serve both God and money." "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

The ruler’s problem is one of the heart; he sees the attraction of Jesus, he knows Jesus is living out life the way God intends – but he’s used to his way of life, he loves his wealth and can’t imagine life without it.

Contrast the ruler's response to that of Joseph and Sophia at Westwood. They are straightforward, trusting, have a sense of wonder, and they are generous. Definitely not innocent nor perfect. That is not what Jesus means. But like the child whom Jesus places before his disciples in Matthew 18:2, their hearts have a beautiful quality about them. They willingly and freely give their piggy-bank savings so that one other kid in a remote corner of the world will have the pleasure of running into Jesus' arms.

To the kids at Westwood Community Church, Chanhassen and those at Oakwood Community Church in Waconia, thank you for standing with us at SWIM Ministries as we take the good news of Jesus Christ to the world.

So, how are we doing with our fundraising efforts with two days left before we leave for Burundi? Well, not to us but to the Lord alone be the glory! When I blogged five days ago our need stood at $ 19,000. Three days ago it had shrank to 13,000. Then two days ago it had shrank further to $ 9,000. Today, thanks to Joseph and Sophia, we now just need $ 2,000. But what is that to our God seeing kids with great faith like Sophia and Joseph?

As of this morning, I have an outstanding marching-gift challenge of $ 5,500. There you have it. Pray for the marching person to step forward so we may meet our difference.

Faith is...Responding to Jesus' invitation to come and follow Him like a little child.

"Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it at all." "...Do not hinder the children in Burundi from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."

Aug 31, 2009

Five Days and Counting..From the Fringes to the Center

Yesterday I spoke in the Sunday service at Grace Church of Forest Lake. I chose as my text Joshua 2:1-22, which tells us the story of the harlot Rahab and Joshua's two spies to Jericho. At the end of the message, I saw something that is becoming more and more rare in our American churches; penitent souls crying out to God at the altar in earnest desire for personal transformation.

In the story, Joshua sends two spies to check out the city of Jericho. The courageous young men find their way into the city and are welcomed into the harlot Rahab's residence.

Being a woman, unmarried, and engaged in harlotry, Rahab lives on the fringe of society. Her house is literally on the edge of town (v. 15), the most vulnerable place one could live in ancient times. She is vulnerable to marauding gangs of enemy invaders. Her trade places her on the fringes of the social hierachy. Her gender and marital status place her on the fringes of political and economic influence and power.

Yet in all of Jericho, she is the one person that God counts to be most righteous. In an act of sovereign grace, God sends the two spies to her door. Her actions reveal a woman who was open to grasp the one chance left to escape God's judgement.

While everyone else in Jericho, including the king, saw the spies and Israel as instruments of divine punishment, she saw them as instruments of divine grace. And so she welcomed them, fed them, and hid them from those that would have harmed them. These heroic acts are the beginning of her amazing transformation and movement from the fringes to the center. Even the king of Jericho notices and sends emisaries to her house.

Through her actions of faith, she moved from the fringes of society into the very center of God's most important dealing with humanity on that day and throughout the subsequent generations. She ends up becoming part of the geneology of Christ. Today, all of us who are followers of Christ are beneficiaries of her heroic acts of faith.

There are a number of things that she did right that contributed to her movement from the fringes of human society to the center of God's plan for humanity.

Firstly, Rahab knew God's revealed Will. In verse 9 she reveals her knowledge of God's plan to give Israel the land.

Secondly, Rahab welcomed God's grace. Hebrews 11:31 says, "By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies (God's grace) in peace."

Thirdly, Rahab acted according to God's revealed will. Rather than resist God, she submitted to God. She understood that the way to benefit from her knowledge of God's will was to align herself with its demands rather than resisting it.

Fourthly Rahab chose loyalty to God over loyalty to her kin and country. Rather than align herself with the perishable and transcient, she aligned herself with the eternal God and His works of righteousness in the world. In her choosing, she also interceded for her household, praying that they too may be saved.

Finally, Rahab complied with the rules of the passover (v.18-21) by tieing the scarlet code in her window. When God's Judgment came, the sign of blood provided for her deliverance and Salvation.

From her experience, we learn that it is never too late for anyone to receive God's mercy and grace. Secondly, it is incumbent upon us to act on the knowledge we have about God. Our actions reveal our faith.

Thirdly, it is not who we are, where we live, what we do, or who we know that determines how God deals with us. It is how we respond to the knowledge of God and His invitation to us that counts.

Fifthly, if we humble ourselves before God, our scary moments can become our salvation moments. You can imagine what Jericho residents thought when they saw the spies: "We are finished, they are here!" Not so for Rahab. She turned it into a moment of salvation for her and her household.

Finally and most importantly, we notice that Salvation is by God's grace through faith and not as a result of our works. To understand more on this last point I encourage you to read the book of Romans :)

So there you have it. A summary of the message from yesterday. I invited people in the service to respond whichever way they felt God was speaking to them. Two young girls aged about six came forward to the left side of the altar and knelt there for prayer by themselves. I went over to them and joined them briefly.

Next to them stood a group of four, I guessed they were couples, holding hands in prayer. Next to them a group of four older women knelt at the altar with tears flowing down their eyes. In the middle stood my wife Suzanne praying with a group of three other women whose hands were shaking with emotion as tears rolled down their eyes.

On the right side of the altar two ladies stood side-by-side with one lady in her thirties and pleaded I join them to pray for her as she had a broken heart. Next to them stood two gentlemen. As I prayed with one, he told me he has been coming to church for four years and he wants so desperately to know God's mission for his life.

And then as my wife was about to exit, a young lady came to her and requested for prayer for Salvation. Like Rahab, she was seizing the opportunity to embrace God's olive-branch and move from the fringes to the center.

How about you? What are you gonna do?

And yes, it is now just five days to go before we leave for Burundi. How is my faith in God's provision holding up in the face of our $ 19,000 need four days ago?

Well, I am glad to report that we are on course. Two days ago our need for the mission had shrank from $ 19,000 to $ 13,000. As of this moment, our need has shrank even further from $ 13, 000 to just $ 9,000. That is a $ 10,000 swing in three days. Isn't the Lord good? Yes, He is and I believe He is providing every single cent we need by Friday.

Keep praying.