Encouragement

I was very challenged and, um, encouraged to read this quote today on encouragement. It’s an excerpt from Tullian Tchividjian’s upcoming book Unfashionable, and he’s talking about how encouraging other people can be one of the best forms of evangelism. As I read his theological rationale for this assertion, however, I was struck by what a peacemaking mindset this is — that building a culture of peace in your church isn’t just about “keeping the peace” so you can do “real ministry,” but it’s having the gospel impact how we view one another; it’s about moving outside of ourselves because of the cross and helping people live out the reality of who God is in their lives and relationships. And encouragement is such a basic — but oft overlooked — dynamic of helping people live out our common identity in Christ.

So, without further ado, here’s Tullian’s quote:

Since encouraging others is the verbal affirmation of God’s reflection in and through them, then encouraging people awakens in them their sense of being made in God’s image. It causes them to feel different, alive, profoundly human—and this helps them to become aware that they are more than a number, more than a product, more than a machine, more than a chance happening. It helps them to feel that they are, in fact, “fearfully and wonderfully made.” This forces them to reflect deeply on who they really are as human beings, which in turn causes them to reflect on their Creator. As Calvin observed, none of us can honestly examine ourselves without coming to see that we’re created by someone for someone. This recognition stirs up real humanness in people, causing them to reflect on what they’re missing spiritually (not materially). They start sensing how there’s more to who they are than what this world is telling them.

Everyone who forgives bears the other’s sins

I just read this in the postscript of a friend’s email and was so taken with it, I wanted to post it here right away!

“Should it surprise us, then, that when God determined to forgive us rather than punish us for all the ways we have wronged him and one another, that he went to the Cross in the person of Jesus Christ and died there? As Bonhoeffer says, everyone who forgives someone bears the other’s sins. On the Cross we see God doing visibly and cosmically what every human being must do to forgive someone, though on an infinitely greater scale. I would argue, of course, that human forgiveness works this way because we unavoidably reflect the image of our Creator. That is why we should not be surprised that if we sense that the only way to triumph over evil is to go through the suffering of forgiveness, that this would be far more true of God, whose just passion to defeat evil and loving desire to forgive others are both infinitely greater than ours.” –Tim Keller, The Reason for God

Courageous Email to Boss…

I laughed over the weekend as I read The Onion and noticed a spoof article entitled, “Courageous Email to Boss in Drafts Folder Since December.” It’s a humorous commentary on how people draft courageous, status quo-challenging, direction-changing emails and then lose the courage to actually click “send.” I have to admit that I think I’ve done this a few times… although they’re usually quickly deleted and aren’t sitting in my drafts folder.

But let’s be honest … how many “life-changing” emails have you ever drafted or received? Isn’t the reverse more often true? That we write or say something in the spur of the moment — in anger, in fear, in frustration — and then regret it later on? I’m reminded of Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

I’ve posted before here The 10 Commandments for Email Communcations and a link to our article “Keeping the Peace: Writing Email that Will Not Stir Up Conflict,” but miscommunication by poorly written and/or overly-emotional emails are enough problem that I think it bears repeated mention. We don’t check the fruit of the Spirit at the door when we log onto the Internet!

Habakkuk in Zimbabwe

I just came across this article, Habakkuk in Zimbabwe, in Christianity Today.  The author, whom CT keeps anonymous for his own protection, talks about the painful reality of life in Zim right now — food shortages so severe that this American has difficulty even imagining what it would be like.

 The tone of the article is grim, but it is far from despairing.  In fact, the author challenges the church in Zimbabwe — his church — to emerge from this crisis with its faith intact, purified and reflecting the glory of Jesus Christ.  What a remarkable challenge, one that can only come from a faith that has already been undergoing purification and strengthening.

The article made me think of Victor Nakah, a Zimbabwean who was a keynote speaker at our conference last year.  Zim was already on the edge of this crisis when he came to Charlotte and shared with us; his was a powerful message that interwove stories of community-level peacemaking with challenges that he had gone through personally.  His simple point?  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  At heart, this is the key to all peacemaking, and it flows out of love for the God who loved us first.

I’d encourage you to take time to read the CT article; I think you’ll also be challenged and encouraged to trust God and to love your neighbor, as well as to pray for a church where doing so requires radical dependence on God.  Here’s the first paragraph to whet your appetite.

 Over the last five years, I have preached often from Habakkuk. I stress the fallenness of our world and the need to be realistic about human wickedness. But Habakkuk also stresses that history demands a judgment. If God is just, there must be a judgment one day — maybe not in this life but certainly in the life to come. God’s answer to our struggles with evil and evil men and women in this world is, “The righteous will live by faith — our loyalty to God in spite of the godlessness of others.” We’re getting lots of practice.

Do I want a fixed relationship more than I want God?

I enjoyed Sean Michael Lucas’ post today “Watching Joel Osteen.” It was a great non-snarky examination of why so many people are drawn to Osteen’s message. (Lucas’ answer, by the way, is that Osteen provides hope.)

You need to read the whole thing, but here is Sean’s final paragraph:

And that is the great hope: not that our material position would be better or our relationships grow stronger. Rather, our great hope is that the steadfast, committed love of our God is transforming us into worshippers who find their hearts satisfied in God himself.

Obviously his main point is the final sentence. But I was struck by the penultimate sentence: “And that is the great hope: not that our material position would be better or our relationships grow stronger.” It’s easy to take potshots at a guy like Osteen, but what about me? I wonder: are there times when our biblical peacemaking is used as a means to an end? When I want my relationship fixed more than I want to find my every joy and satisfaction in all that God is for me in Christ?

Lord, may my heart’s joy and satisfaction, first and foremost, be found in you and nothing else.

Top 10 Things I Learned on our Trip to South Asia

Wow, we had a great trip, and now it’s great to be back!  I had the chance to share about our trip (which Ken wrote about earlier) at staff devotions last week, and I wanted to pass on what I shared while it’s still (relatively) fresh!

 10. Christians everywhere have more in common than we have differences.

Pictured below is Ken teaching the Slippery Slope, which we’ve found connects almost everywhere!  In tropical places, we just have to change the metaphor of standing on a hill of ice to, say, a hill of mud or sand.

9. People everywhere have more in common than we have differences. 

Christians in this region are a definite minority, and yet we were amazed to see the ways that they partner with and serve people from all sorts of backgrounds and religions.  Pictured here are orphans from a variety of backgrounds welcoming us to the conference.

8. Humor is universal … and God has a great sense of humor.

Pictured here are Karl and Ferdy — notice the rope in Karl’s hand!  This is right after the rope demonstration that Ken described in his post.  One of the things that made this demonstration so effective was that, in the gravity of the situation, people still made humorous comments that would give us a little breath of fresh air.

7. A little bit of pressure on the church can be a good thing.

We in the United States live such comfortable lives; it’s amazing to see and even experience the sacrifices and risks that people take because of their belief in God’s power and his worthiness.

6.  Loving your enemies is an incredibly powerful “weapon.”

This is true whether you’re talking about macro-issues, like ethnic or religious conflict, or micro-issues, like your ongoing frustrations with an elder in your church.

5. God is more powerful than we often give him credit for being.

I noticed that in the worship songs and the prayers of our hosts, there was a strong emphasis on God’s power.  I think that our churches in the United States have lost our awe of God’s power because we emphasize God’s love to the point of seeing him as our “buddy.”  It was refreshing and challenging to realize that these two perspectives can come together to give us a more robust understanding of God’s character.

4. Conflict is universal, and the answer (or Answer) is universal.

This is the cover of the conference guide — and the front of the auditorium was filled with a HUGE banner that looked like this!

3. Inconveniences are not the same as suffering.

As you can tell from the scenery, we weren’t suffering much at all!

2. Things are almost never as they first appear.

Whether we are considering a brother or sister in our church or a movement on the other side of the world, I’m reminded that there is a lot going on under the surface that we are often not aware of.  We don’t see their true struggles, but we also don’t always see the amazing things that God is doing in drawing individuals or entire groups of people to himself with his reconciling power and love.


 

1. Just being with people sends a powerful message.

God doesn’t always call us to be active and “doing” things, which our American pragmatism tells us we need to be doing in order to feel productive and useful.  We enjoyed rich fellowship, worship and teaching which was just as important “ministry” as the teaching and coaching that God allowed us to do.  Oh, and we also enjoyed some fantastic food :)

Training Wheels

Daddy's with youLast weekend, my daughter decided it was time to take off the training wheels and really learn to ride a bike. A friend of hers recently did the same, and so it seems a bit of positive peer pressure had been exerted.

It was an exciting moment as I pulled out the wrench and took them off. My daughter was excited, too.

Until she got on the bike.

Then the fears took over. “I’m going to fall!” she kept saying. And as much as I reassured her that I was right there with her and I wouldn’t let her fall, she just couldn’t get past the fear. I knew she was perfectly safe, but in that moment, my certainty wasn’t enough for her. 

We persevered and practiced several laps up and down the driveway, but we ended up eventually putting the training wheels back on. We’ll try again soon, I’m sure. All in good time.

As I reflect on that experience, it’s easy to draw the analogy of how we relate to God in the midst our fears. Despite reassurance from the promises of his Word and the very presence of his Spirit, we can so often give in to our fears. Why is that? Like the disciples caught in the storm, we forget the power of the one who is with us. “Oh you of little faith, why are you so afraid?” he asks (Matt 8:26).

Peacemaking RiderBut hopefully there are times when we persevere through the fear, and by his grace, do what he is calling us to do. In small moments of obedience, we are more and more conformed to the likeness of Christ. Like riding a bike, it doesn’t happen all at once. Not at all.  But he who begins a good work in us is faithful to complete it. All in good time.

NOTE: I probably wouldn’t have blogged about any of this were it not for my daughter’s attire in the picture–a relic of the backyard bible club on peacemaking that my church’s youth put on every summer. How could I pass that up? (But in case you ever wondered if wearing a peacemaking t-shirt is in any way advantageous when you are learning to ride a bicycle, the answer is no.)

Reforming your Church with Integrity

Greg Gilbert at the Church Matters blog is doing a series on “Church Reform When You’re not the Pastor”.  It’s a great series to read if you’re passionate about working with your leaders in a biblical, God-honoring way. I especially liked post #3 about setting yourself up in public oppostion to your church’s leaders. Here’s an excerpt:

“One way to become a force, a center of gravity, in a church is to set yourself up as the loyal opposition to the leadership, the guy who questions every recommendation, pokes holes in every idea, probes for weaknesses in every new ministry, and generally becomes known as the guy who doesn’t like or trust the leaders and would take the church in a wholly different direction if he had half a chance. Do that, and you’ll probably gather around yourself a small and devoted group of followers, and you’ll certainly become a focus of attention at every business meeting. But good luck persuading the church’s leaders—much less the church as a whole—to give your ideas any credence. The loyal opposition is seldom invited into leadership by those he loyally opposes.”

Getting Untangled in SE Asia

I am just now returning from a trip to Southeast Asia, and God has taught me a great deal. I’ve been inspired and challenged by the example of our brothers and sisters there, who sometimes endure great suffering as they live out their faith as a religious minority. I’ve also been impressed by way that our host organization has helped to educate and care for thousands of people in other faith communities, and thereby built trust and close relationships across the political and religious spectrum.

Asia Trip - Ken, Karl and Molly with friendI’ve also learned a great deal from my travel companions, Molly Routson and Karl Dortzbach. Molly did a brilliant job drawing out practical implications on peacemaking as she and I “tag-teamed” during a session on Monday. She is incredibly insightful on cross cultural dynamics as we interact with people here, and has helped to guide numerous conversations with church leaders in realistic and constructive directions.

Karl’s interactions with the people here have been similarly instructive, and his keynote address had to be the high point of the conference.

Asia Trip - Rope DemoAfter introducing the concept of Shalom through the story of Jesus’ meeting with Samaritan woman in John 4, he used his marvelous “rope exercise” to show how unconfessed sin can strangle relationships. He and three volunteers acted out a conflict scenario caused by church leaders who were talking critically about one another instead of going to each other directly with their concerns. As each man spoke a word of criticism about others, Karl put loops of the rope around their necks and wrists to symbolize how such sin tangles us together in choking spiritual bondage. In the middle of the skit, all four men were tied and tangled together in such a way that the movements of one man forced the others to move. What a picture of the bondage and slavery of sin!

But then Karl reminded us of the good news of the gospel and the liberating affect of repentance. As each man began to confess his sin and forgive others, Karl removed the ropes that bound them, symbolizing the freedom we have when we turn from our sins. When a man confessed only part of his sin or made excuses for it, some of the nooses stayed around his neck or wrist. Only when they made specific, sincere confessions without blaming others did all the ropes come off. After the men were finally all untangled, they joined their hands together and tied the rope around them to symbolize their choice to forgive one another as Christ had forgiven them, to build new friendships, and to work together to heal the damage their criticism, gossip, and judgments had done to their church.

The audience applauded and laughed throughout the skit as the destructive power of sin and the redeeming power of the gospel were illustrated in ways every person could understand. At the end, Karl laid the rope down the aisle and invited anyone who had been or was still entangled in such sin to come and stand by the rope. This is asking a lot in a shame-based culture, where people are conditioned to avoid losing face. Several women (thank God for their humility!) got up right away and walked to the aisle. Then the Lord gave some men grace to follow their example. Pretty soon the aisle was full.

Asia Trip - Listening to TranslatorThen the Lord moved a tall, white-skinned man to overcome his pride and walk to the rope as well. All through Karl’s skit, God was convicting me of the many times I have talked about people instead of going to them directly to express concerns about their behavior or to resolve differences that were standing between us. Even though I know and teach that such behavior offends God and harms relationships, I still fall into this type of sin far too easily. As I stood by the rope, God brought a couple of people to mind who I need to confess this to when I get home. I’m now praying that every time I’m tempted to talk about someone instead of talking to them in the future, God will bring to mind the scene of that rope choking and binding Karl and his three brothers, and move me to go directly to a friend to deal with concerns and differences in an honest and loving way.

Please pray for the hundreds of brothers and sisters who heard and saw Karl’s superb teaching. They now have the opportunity not only to disentangle themselves from this kind of sin but also to return to their churches throughout this huge nation and show their families and churches how to experience freedom and peace through confession and the forgiveness secured to us through our Lord Jesus.

Untangled and free only through Him,

Ken