Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Face of Jesus

What did Jesus look like?

The answer, of course, is that we don’t know. 

This question came to my mind again recently when my grandmother pointed out a guy at a concert we were at and said that he looked just like Jesus. He was of average height, had shoulder length dark hair, and a full beard. Now with no disrespect meant at all, the guy was kind of homely looking, unassuming, someone who I would not give a second thought. Confession, I thought he was homeless actually. Ok so that sounded disrespectful. Cue the big kick in the face when I realized that both my grandmother and I had our own different cultural preconceptions about what Jesus looks like, founded on what? Whatever artists and filmakers view as "typical?"

In December 2002 Popular Mechanics did a cover story called "The Real Face of Jesus." Using "forensic anthropology" scientists and archaeologists combined to investigate what a first-century Galilean Jew might have looked like, with medical artist Richard Neave commissioned to do the rendering. The article describes the process:

"The first step for Neave and his research team was to acquire skulls from near Jerusalem, the region where Jesus lived and preached. Semite skulls of this type had previously been found by Israeli archeology experts, who shared them with Neave. With three well-preserved specimens from the time of Jesus in hand, Neave used computerized tomography to create X-ray "slices" of the skulls, thus revealing minute details about each one’s structure. Special computer programs then evaluated reams of information about known measurements of the thickness of soft tissue at key areas on human faces. This made it possible to re-create the muscles and skin overlying a representative Semite skull."

How tall would a first-century Jew be? "From an analysis of skeletal remains, archeologists had firmly established that the average build of a Semite male at the time of Jesus was 5 ft. 1 in., with an average weight of about 110 pounds." So apparently, I'm taller and heavier than Jesus! Now that's weird! But it's good to have our cultural preconceptions—even prejudices—challenged.

There are numerous physical details about Jesus' appearance that can be determined from the Bible. We do know that he was in his early 30s when he began his ministry. Jesus may or may not have had long hair or a beard. Irrelevant matter though. I wonder what the length of anyone's hair has to do with their impact in the world. Unless you're Troy Polamalu, who's hair is three feet long and insured for $1 million.

Isaiah's messianic prophecy does suggest that there was nothing unusually attractive about Jesus ("he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him," Isaiah 53:2). Is it taking it too far to say that Jesus was homely, unattractive or ugly? 

Here's where I'm going with this. I am sad to say that I regarded the guy at the concert with some sort of disdain, and my grandmother sort of revered the same guy, just based on his outward appearance. I always thought that if I ever came face to face with Jesus, I would be completely blown away by his beauty, and the forgiveness and mercy in his eyes. Still might be the case someday. But I keep thinking about how so many people just missed Jesus back then.

Who could have cared about the birth of a baby while the world was watching Rome in all her splendor? All eyes were on Augustus, the caesar who demanded a census so as to determine a measurement to enlarge taxes. At the time, who was interested in just another couple making a long trip to be counted for the census? What could have possibly been more important that Caesar's decisions in Rome? Who cared about a Jewish baby born in Bethlehem?

Well, God sure did. Augustus was only a pawn in God's grand plan. While Rome was busy making world history, God showed up. He pitched his fleshly tent in silence on straw... in a stable. The world didn't even notice. Reeling from the wake in Alexander the Great, Herod the Great, Augustus the Great, the world overlooked Mary's little Lamb.

Just because Jesus didn't come down from Heaven in a fiery chariot and stage a coup to take over Rome, most of the inhabitants of the Roman empire overlooked him and his work. An itinerant preacher, with no place to lay his head (Matthew 8:20) is this guy right here!

A man who walked and served among the poor, needy, marginalized and oppressed, is my King. I only pray that I seek and serve him every day of my life. Do you know him?

The Name of Jesus

Over the past 2000 years, more people on this earth have known the name of Jesus than any other name. Since 33 AD, over 8 billion people have claimed to be followers of this Jesus. Billions more have heard of his name. Presently, the name of Jesus can be found in over 6000 languages and more are being added every year.

It’s strange that this single name has dominated the last 2000 years of world history, especially Western history. For most, Jesus has a sacred ring to it; it sounds holy and divine. But this wasn’t the case when Mary and Joseph followed the angel’s instructions and gave their baby his name. Yes, it had a special meaning, but it was not an unusual name. In Acts 9 we read of the Jewish false prophet, Bar-Jesus. In Colossians 4, Paul mentions one of his fellow workers, Jesus, called Justus. And some ancient manuscripts of the gospel of Matthew call the robber released by Pilate, Jesus Barabbas, which can be translated, ironically enough, “Jesus Son of the Father.”

Jesus was a common name. When Mary and Joseph called their son Jesus, there were no prayers in his name. No one used it as a swear word. No one sang songs about this name. We don’t name our sons John with the expectation that over the next 2000 years 8 billion people will pray in his name. But common as it was, Jesus was “Jesus” by design. In Greek it is Iesous, in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, Yesu. Both are derived from the Hebrew, the name is Yeshua or Joshua. Joshua is made up of two parts: Ya, which is short for Yahweh, and hoshea, which means salvation. Therefore, Mary and Joseph give their little baby the name Jesus, “Yahweh is salvation.”

Which he was. And is. Through Christ alone. Ever since the first Christmas, Jesus has been more than just a name. It’s been our only comfort in life and in death, our only hope in a hopeless world. When you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, you have life in his name (John 20:31). There is, in fact, no other name under heaven given among men whereby we can be saved (Acts 4:12). So naturally, whatever we do, in word or deed, we ought to do in the name of the Lord Jesus (Colossians 3:17). For God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:11-12).

The power in the name is the person behind the name. In the Old Testament, names meant something. They were more than badges of identification. They often told others who you were and what purpose God had for your life. So Adam was the first man. Eve was the mother of all living things. Abraham was the father of many nations. Benjamin was the son of his father’s right hand. Moses was drawn out of the water. Peter was the rock. Barnabas was the son of encouragement.
And what about Jesus?

“And you shall call his name Jesus,” the angel told Joseph, “for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). More than a great teacher, more than a worker of miracles, more than giving us meaning in life, more than a caring friend, more than a transformer of cultures, more than a purpose for the purposeless, Jesus is a Savior of sinners.

So there really is just something about that name.

Nope, not just something: everything.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Why I LOVE This Time of Year

This time of year always gets me thinking about traditions. Mainly family and cultural traditions. Tradition is usually a sign of established order and gives an individual or group a certain identity. That identity differentiates people making each person unique and special, and who doesn't want to feel like they're special?

Specifically related to this time of year, my family has a lot of different traditions. There's the whole not-celebrating-Thanksgiving tradition, followed by the house-decorating tradition on Black Friday. We have nothing against Thanksgiving, it's just an exclusively American holiday, culturally, we just never really got into it. Celebration of advent is another family tradition, along with weekly Christmas carol sing-a-longs. My favorite tradition by far though is following up Christmas Eve service with a Chinese food dinner and opening presents at midnight.

Recently I was reading an article on cross-cultural mission that also got me thinking about traditions. While the Bible centers on one people - the Jews; and then upon the "New Israel," the church - the world at that time included scores of other ethnic and cultural peoples. Today, our world inhabits about 30,000 different people groups, all with their own traditions and ways of life.

Biblical writers often stress our mission to reach Earth's "peoples." God promised Abraham that his descendants would bless "all peoples on earth" (Genesis 12:1-3). Isaiah declared that Israel was raised up to bring "salvation to the ends of the earth" (Isaiah 49:6). Jesus' Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) to "go and make disciples of all nations" reinforces this sacred calling.

Christianity is not the only religion inviting others to join its ranks. Judaism welcomes "Gentile" converts, and Islam is proactively mission-minded. Christianity's approach, though, is different. Judaism expects Gentiles to become culturally kosher, and Islam shapes converts into an Arabic cultural mold. But ideally, Christian mission adapts to the tongues and cultures of the people it seeks to reach. This was actually an official policy in early Christianity, with the decisions of the Jerusalem Council reported in Acts 15. It's voiced in Paul's reflection in 1 Corinthians 9:22, "I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some."

I know for me, there's is little else more meaningful than the opportunity to help plant or advance an indigenous church in another culture. As the Gospel's meaning is expressed in their own language, music, art, architecture  and style, some of these people will discover faith, experience life change, and become agents of hope to their peers - and even to other peoples. And we gain a deeper understanding of the Gospel's meaning through the experience of interpreting cross-culturally than we ever could by staying home.

You know what this makes me excited for?
And that's from....

For those of you who don't know what Urbana is, it is a large scale, empowering missions event held every three years and is a hugely diverse gathering of students, graduates, missionaries, and church leaders from all over the world. I can't do it justice by just writing about it. It's worship with thousands of people. It's a chance to learn and seek what your place is in God's global mission. It's the chance to hear from dynamic speakers from all around the world who have ministry experience in areas like engineering, health, economics and finance, art, church planting and leadership, all with a global perspective. Basically it's a glimpse of Heaven. Urbana is truly a multicultural and multinational experience. And why wouldn't it be? God's global mission is all about drawing all people and nations to Himself.

Urbana 2012 (December 27-31 2012). See you there!

Friday, November 4, 2011

"So You're Religious Right?"

Finally, the post I've wanted to write about for so long! This question has been on my heart for the past month, and I haven't been able to process and write out my answer until now. For those of you who don't remember, last month one of my coworkers asked me the question "So you're religious right?" This was in response to a Facebook status I wrote about God's divine work in my mom's open heart surgery. I fumbled to find an answer to this question, for no apparent reason except for the fact that I do not live my life in order to be ready at any moment to share my faith clearly, boldly, and decisively.

Clearly, this has been bothering me a lot. Biblically, we are mandated to "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have" (1 Peter 3:15). Aside from the fact that it's hard to me to clearly communicate my beliefs; I think there were some tensions in what my answer should look/sound like. I know the first thing that spills out of the mouths of most Christians is "it's a relationship, not a religion," which to me is true, but I know that as a part of my relationship with God, I do practice certain disciplines that to a non-believer would be considered religious by definition (going to church, reading and studying the Bible, praying, fasting, etc.).

Now my following thoughts are based off an article from The Gospel Coalition specifically related to college/peer ministry. However, it's incredibly relevant and I think addresses my tensions in my answer to the title question really well. 

Thought #1 - There needs to be a shift from religion and relationship to Gospel.

Like I said previously, it's common for well-meaning Christians to say, "Being a Christian is not about religion. It's about a relationship." But honestly, I think this line is both tired and discounted by the unchurched (never been to church) and dechurched (left the church). Non-believers can rightfully point out much that is still "religious" about the Christian faith. (If they've done their research, they can reference verses like 1 Timothy 5:4 and James 1:26-27). And honestly, I'm not sure some non-believers will find talk of relationship very persuasive, because non-Christian "spiritual" people already have their pick of other of "spiritual relationships" from which to choose.

Both religion and relationship capture helpful aspects of what Christianity is, but I think neither word is strong enough to fully encompass what Christianity is about. Only GOSPEL can do that. The Gospel alone is the power of salvation for all who believe (Romans 1:16); no amount of our religious observance or relational feeling has the power to save.

Many of us are aware of how religion easily becomes a work, through legalistic observance of rules and rituals, but sometimes we forget that relationship can fall into some of the same traps. While the legalist chases adherence to the rules, the relationist chases the next feel-good moment. In this sense, relationship can become just another type of salvation by works among holier-than-thou people, going from one passionate mountaintop experience to another. Been there, done that!

Christianity is expressed and experienced in both religion and relationship. But it's not about either. Only the Gospel occupies that central place. The Gospel is not merely an initiation for new converts but the foundation for everyone. The Gospel - in all its depth, riches, and fullness - must be repeatedly proclaimed to believer and unbeliever, churched and unchurched alike.

Thought #2 - There needs to be a shift from compartmentalizing faith to full life engagement.

Many churches or campus/peer ministries believe they are adequately equipping students to live out their faith. However, too many of us focus only on private spiritual disciplines. While teaching these things is a must, missional ministry realizes that Christians must be equipped to think and live Christianly in every sphere of life. This means calling believers to whole person transformation - mind, body, and spirit - through the Gospel, a transformation that begins through the renewing of their minds (Romans 12:2). Grove City College did this so well! I attended college there for two years and we were required to take this Humanities core that was all about the Gospel and how it applied to history, art, music, literature, and most importantly, how it should shape our entire worldview.

Missional ministry constantly helps believers make sense of their lives from a deeply Christian perspective. Believers are helped to view relationships, work, school, money, entertainment, justice - and many other issues - from this Christian perspective. Missional outreach is familiar with and engages the various "gospels" proclaimed in culture, particularly through movies, music, TV, and the internet. This takes wisdom and discernment, as well as a deep awareness (and appreciation) of both the biblical and cultural narratives.

So there's definitely a lot more I could say, but I tried to be as concise as possible. If you know anything about me, then you probably know that this post itself took like 6 drafts and multiple publishing attempts. The "What has God been teaching you lately?" question, is an interesting one, because most of the time God's teaching me a lesson on one thing in so many different ways, either because I'm just not getting it, or it's an eternal lesson with so much depth and richness. God's mystery is part of His beauty, but I'm also so thankful that He's made Himself known to me, in whatever way my feeble human mind can comprehend.


Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Hurting Church

The hurting church is not an occasional problem. More and more often we find people who have been hurt deeply within the family of God, leaving them worn and exhausted. More and more often we find leaders in conflict within the body of believers, robbed of the joy Jesus promised in Him. When we find this hurt hanging on to our own bruised soul, it can make us want to leave the church and sometimes even want to blame God who seems to have allowed it all.

Sadly, we have come to accept that this is the way church is. There is an epidemic of fractured believers out there and we have actually come to accept this as the norm. So we either stay away and let our hearts become cold and bitter...or we put on our Sunday best, say "life goes on" and implement a new vision or program and hope the problems will just go away. The hurt in individual hearts and churches gets buried...until it gets stirred up again.

Can we break this cycle that happens over and over in heart after heart, and church after church?

I am continually amazed at the simplicity of God's Word and the clear, direct instructions He shares with us. The Father's heart toward us, His children, is so open and loving as He instructs us in living in the day-to-day challenges.

The steps God gives us are simple, though not easy. They are steps that can help us move from being reactive in conflict to becoming proactive in guarding our hearts and our churches. And, as steps always do, they will take us to higher ground where we can live above disunity and confusion. The framework these steps are built on is love. Love is also the handrail that helps move us along from one step to another. Without love, the steps move us from the fulfillment of right living that God calls us to, to self- righteous living, which is hollow and void of the power of the Holy Spirit. God says our trademark will be love. "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:35).

Step 1: Know your enemy
We don't like to focus on the devil. We don't want to give him any glory. Yet, in failing to listen to the warning of Scripture that the devil actually "prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8), we find ourselves consumed ("devoured!") by all kinds of agitations/irritations in one another and in the church.

Quarrels about how new programs are run, personalities of church leaders, different worship styles, people who "just don’t get it" the way we do, all begin to rob us of our joy and steal our effectiveness as a body of believers. And we are often clueless to what is really going on in the spiritual realm. Scripture says, "We wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers..." (Ephesians 6:12). When in conflict with another believer, we need to ask ourselves the question, "Is there a greater power at work here?"

The answer in these situations is usually "yes." And the solution is so simple we miss it. As Christians we are in a fierce battle. But our opponent is in the spiritual realm. His mandate is to "kill, steal and destroy" (John 10:10). Instead of recognizing that, we engage in battle with one another, leaving scratches and scars, bruises and bleeding that sometimes takes years to heal and always leaves a mark. And the trademark of love becomes so faint, the world can hardly see it. Scripture tells us to "be alert, and resist the enemy" (1Peter 5:8,9) be on your guard and "stand against the schemes of the devil" (Ephesians 6:11). So when conflict strikes...know immediately who your opponent is...know immediately he has schemes and plans in place that will at best steal from you and at worst destroy God's people and their effectiveness.

Any pervasive, downward spiral needs to be called what it is. Be alert to the red flags. Our human nature wants to defend and justify ourselves. God knows the tendency of our hearts to go their own way. That is why He calls us to pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44) and to do good to those who use us (Luke 6:27). (The trademark of love, remember?) Only the "God strength" in our lives, His strength at our point of weakness and frustration, can remedy this battle that is fought in the heavens, yet lived out on earth in our churches.

"Be alert and always keep on praying" (Ephesians 6:18) When prayer is no longer the oxygen of our spiritual soul or the heartbeat of our church, our defense is down. Praying for those who hurt us becomes something we don't even want to do. Neglect in prayer and in the spiritual training of the Word leaves us with open doors for the enemy to turn the battle on one another. It is so subtle and we can feel so justified, but the loss in our own hearts and in the Kingdom is an unnecessary tragedy. The stealing and robbing is done long before we have even recognized the enemy was at the door. Knowing he is prowling about keeps us in a proactive state and able to recognize and withstand his tactics.

Step 2: Keep short accounts
The truth of the Word of God in the instruction from Paul to "not let the sun go down on your anger" is so profoundly simple that we miss it (we just miss a lot of things God is trying to tell us).

The Bible often uses the picture of seeds and reaping and sowing. Seeds of irritations and annoyances, not weeded out and dealt with on a daily basis, grow in our hearts. When they are not dealt with as soon as we recognize them, they take root and each subsequent encounter with that same agitation, which will always be linked to some person, will cause that root to dig just a little deeper. The deeper it goes, the more bitter it gets.

Scripture tells us "a root of bitterness springs up and defiles many" (Hebrews 12:15). When it finally comes out, it defiles us and those around, and hurt is the result. When our own bitter roots come up we hurt others. That is why Proverbs 4:23 tells us "above all else guard your heart for it is the well spring of life." It is the very source of all we are. What is in our heart spills out of our mouth (Matthew 12:34), and it is by our very words that we often grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:29, 30), and love goes out the window. The trademark that identified us as His disciples disappears and the world looking on can see no difference in us.

So guard your heart. Take stock every day. Holiness is truth in the inner part. Keep short accounts for your own heart's sake.

If the root is only just beginning in your own heart and still undetected by others, go to God and ask for its removal. You know when it is there. Ask for grace to be poured out in your heart so that you will have all the grace you need to deal with that particular situation and person. 2 Corinthians 9:8 says, "God is able to make all grace abound to you so that in all things and at all times having all that you need you will abound in every good work." If the root has already spilled out and hurt others, go and confess to them. Even if they do not receive you or do not own their part of the conflict, keep your own heart guarded and clean. You are only responsible for one heart. Unresolved conflict in the heart of another is God’s job to deal with. Go read Matthew 18. It's the biblical example to follow when dealing with conflict among believers.

The presence of God in a life and the degree of truth that is allowed in the inner part will be evident in the fruit of our lives. Watch the fruit in your own life and in the lives of others. The fruit gives us away (Matthew 7:20). If you have owned your part in a conflict and others refuse to do the same, give them grace, pray for them, and if necessary, distance yourself from the overflow of their bitter root until they allow God to do healing in their heart.

Always be alert to the seeds that you allow in your heart. They all eventually produce fruit of one kind or another. List the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness/humility, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22). Ask yourself the simple question: "What fruit of the Spirit is in short supply in my life right now?" Then take an honest look at the seeds that may have begun to take root in your heart.

Step 3: Don’t be afraid of accountability
It seems we have come to allow gossip, slander and anger to simply be overlooked and rationalized in our churches. We excuse the fractures among believers by telling ourselves that God is purging our church, He is bringing justice. We stand up and boldly say, “God is in control,” while tears fall and tender spirits get bruised and crushed. We forget that the enemy is alive and well, attempting to influence our choices in how we deal with these situations. We forget that for God to be in control of the moment, the conversation or the situation, we must ask Him to allow His Spirit to work in us and through us. Psalm 15 depicts the marks of an authentic Christian. It says, "He casts no slur on his fellowman...but honors those who fear the Lord." In any given troubling situation we need to honestly ask ourselves, "Am I making choices that allow God to be in control here or am I taking control?"

Proverbs 3:5,6 tells us to "trust in the Lord with your whole heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your path straight." If your own understanding is resulting in opinions and actions that bring division, be accountable for what is going on in your own heart.

God speaks harshly about the one who promotes division (Titus 3:10). If you are prompted to speak to one who is causing division, remember the trademark and go in love and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Don't be afraid to call or be called to accountability. We can run to God, our ever present help. God is Sovereign and He is the Great Redeemer. No matter how bad a situation is, if He is invited in, at any point, He will come in and redeem the situation, work things out for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28) and put a derailed train back on the tracks.

2 Chronicles 7:14 says, "If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked (selfish) ways, then I will heal their land" (their church, their heart). It's a sure promise!

Step 4: Acknowledge pride
Scripture says, "God resists, or opposes, the proud but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6). Pride is a killer. It is one of the subtlest tools of the enemy. God actually resists the proud! Who would want to be opposed by God? Heck no, not me! Yet in the church we often do find pride, but it wears a different cloak than it does out in the world.

In Christian circles we know that pride in our position and possessions is not a godly thing. We scorn openly the pursuit of "fame and fortune" alone. Yet pride exists in our hearts and in our churches in two prominent ways that we often try to justify.

There is pride in standing for a "principle of righteousness" while walking away from reconciliation. Making such a stand is not wrong in itself; however it is very often accompanied by a lack of grace and a spiritual superiority that cuts off the Spirit of God from working in a situation. If you are ever tempted to "stand for righteousness" against another Christian brother or sister, check if your trademark of love is visible, make sure your heart is clean in all the secret places and that you have done all you can to live at peace (Romans 12:18). If the basis for your stand is your own pride be very careful, for God does resist the proud.

The second place pride plays a major role in the church is in the area of spiritual gifts. You may have a discerning heart or a prophetic gift. God may reveal truth to you in a situation or even in the life of another. Again, be very careful. God calls us first to prayer and often, to nothing more. If words are to be spoken God will clearly reveal that, but the first task is to obey the call to prayer.

Much damage has been done in the church when someone feels they have received a word from God and simply talks, rather than prays, about it. If you think you sense something pray, pray, PRAY! And God will reveal if there is anything else He requires. God's whisper in our Spirit will never be in conflict with what He directs in His Word. When we speak in spiritual pride, the Spirit is grieved and we cut off that which God was at work doing in our lives and in the situation. (1 Corinthians 13) The simple question to ask before opening your mouth is: "Will this lift Jesus higher or will this lift me higher?"

Be slow to speak, especially words that sow negative seeds about another, and be quick to listen. Ephesians 4:29,30 says, "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God..."

Step 5: Use the opportunity for growth
When we recognize there has been hurt in our church, we must be willing to take a stand to say what will be different from this day forward. So often we experience hurt within the church walls and we retreat for a while, only to return to find a new vision or a new program and a turning of the page to "press on" and "forget what is behind" without ever acknowledging why we got to the hurtful point we did.

If there is one thing we have learned throughout history, is that it repeats itself. Struggles with pride and accountability, with tending the seeds of our heart and not recognizing our enemy are day-to-day struggles. Unless we recognize where we have been in hurting times and plant some stakes that serve as markers to check us when we tend to spiral into the same patterns, we have not taken the opportunity to mature and move ahead in our journey with God as a church. Ask yourself: "Am I willing to acknowledge my part and take steps to prevent a repeat?"

When conflict threatens your heart and your church, as it always will, seek first to be intentional about raising the banner of prayer in your life and in your church. This invites the Spirit of God to be at work in the lives of those involved and minimizes our tendency to lean on our own understanding. It moves us toward recognizing our utter dependence on God and God alone as the hope of the hurting church.

If you are part of a church that is experiencing hurt and conflict, confusion and disorder, God gives a measuring stick to determine what value system is at work. James 3: 13-17 talks about two kinds of wisdom, one, which does not come from heaven, and one that does. The one not based on heavenly values is centered on earthly values with envy and selfish ambition at the core. Not hard to spot. The trademark of love will be blatantly absent.

The wisdom based on heavenly values will be pure, peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

This higher value system can be reached by applying these five steps based on the foundation of love – love that comes from the heart of the Father to our own individual heart. Then the world will see our trademark and glorify our Father who is in heaven.

Tend your heart wisely! The state of your soul, the health of your church and the world that is watching depends on it.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Faith in Action: The Good News

The countless number of things that heartlessly ravage "the least of these" in our world is overwhelming to someone reading about them for the first time, or even overwhelming to someone who has no idea how to go about alleviating the world's pain. As Christians, we must not stick our heads in the sand and pretend that the world is doing fine just because we are. We must not turn our eyes away like the priest and the Levite in the story of the good Samaritan, walking by those suffering on the other side of the road - our neighbors. We must face the brutal facts about poverty and injustice - only then can we take the first steps to respond.

There is something so much greater at work here! If you ache for a better world but are engulfed by a sense of hopelessness, I have some really really good news for you! Centuries ago there was a man named Jesus who walked this messed up world too. In a time when the Romans were running the show, hope was in short supply for the Jewish people. It was in this context that the son of a carpenter from a town called Nazareth stood up in a local synagogue and read a scroll from the prophet Isaiah.

Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."...The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." (Luke 4:17-21)

Imagine that you're a Jew back then listening to your local Home Depot guy say these things. Weird right? Isaiah had prophesied that a King was coming who would usher in a kingdom unlike anything the world had ever seen. Could it be that Isaiah's prophecies were really coming true with this guy? Was is really possible that justice, peace and righteousness were about to be established forever? Would this King really bring healing to the parched soil, the feeble hands, the shaky knees, the fearful hearts, the blind, the deaf, the lame, the mute, the brokenhearted, the captives, and the sinful souls, and would proclaim the year of jubilee for the poor? (Isaiah 35:1-6, 53:5, 61:1-2) Well Jesus' answer was a YES to that, declaring that "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

What a mission for one man! Of course the nature and work of Jesus Christ is much fuller than we can understand, using us now to do his work before he comes again. Stay tuned in October for a more complete picture of Jesus' mission and what it means for every human being on this planet.

In the meantime, check out a couple of really awesome books. When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert is a great book moving from the foundational concepts about poverty (Who are the poor?), to principles (Should we do relief, rehab, or development?), to practical strategies. (How can we actually help the poor domestically? internationally?) Another great book is The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns, the president of World Vision US. (If you can't get this from me already, I LOVE World Vision!) It outlines Stearns' story of how he left worldly success for something far more significant, and discovered the full power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Stearns uses his story to demonstrate how the whole gospel was and is always meant to be a world-changing social revolution, a revolution that begins with us.

Check them out somewhere, or hit me up if you want to borrow my copies!


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Faith in Action Pt.4: Stand Up For Those Who Can't

"Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed." Psalm 82:3

Millions of children around the world live without any adult care. Many have been orphaned; others abandoned or sold; some abducted and abused. All desperately need to be connected to even just one person who can ensure their basic needs are met and remind them that they are loved. They also need advocates who will speak on their behalf, maintain their rights, and protect them from exploitation and oppression.

Jesus identified himself with the lowest of the low in society (Check out Matthew 25:40). "Whatever you did for one of the least of did for me." Think about that the next time you come across someone who you wouldn't even think about extending your hand to. See the face of Jesus in them.

As you put your faith into action  your own life will be transformed. I promise you! Seeing hope is seeing Jesus. The wonderful irony of Christ's words just leaves me in awe: "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35).

Faith in Action Pt.3: When Disaster Strikes, Live Generously

"Yet I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God." Psalm 70:5

It only takes a few seconds for a person to lose everything. Earthquakes, floods, civil conflicts, and other disasters mercilessly reduce a person's existence to what they need to survive: food, water, and shelter. It is in one's moment of greatest need that help often arrives. God describes Himself as an ever-present help in times of trouble; He rescues the desperate and gives strength to the weary. But God does not work alone. He calls his people to join in the thrilling, privileged task of acting as His hand and feet, reaching those in need.

"If there is a poor man among not be...tightfisted...Rather be openhanded and freely give him whatever he needs." Deuteronomy 15:7-8

Around the world, compassionate people live in openhandedness toward the poor and others in need. Are you one? Your genuine faith finds expression through your generosity; your gifts are a sacred offering to God. Whether it's your time, skills, talents, or money, I encourage you to practice the highest standard of stewardship, taking "pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men" (2 Corinthians 8:21).

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Faith in Action

After my last post, I wanted to write some sort of follow up about how and why action in faith is so important. We can't just be inspired to think on faith, but instead need to be so inspired in order to act on faith. A key verse in all of Scripture is John 3:16. In one sentence, the entire history of Judeo-Christianity is given meaning, the love of a proactive God is displayed, and a hope - free to all who believe - is revealed. God did not stand at a distance, merely observing a world broken by sin. He instead reached out to humankind, His children, and at a great personal expense, offered new life to all who will believe.

The Bible is a record, a picture, a love letter to the world, from God, and ultimately, it is a call to action for those who have received His gift. A call to love others in the the same way that God has loved us - actively and unconditionally. A call to care for the orphans and widows, to pursue justice, to extend the hand of mercy. The message of the Bible remains absolutely relevant and critical. The message is love shown through Jesus Christ. And our response is obedience. In Jesus' words, the fullest expression of our love can be dealt and felt in something even as simple as giving a thirsty child a cup of cold water.

Dr. Robert Pierce, the founder of World Vision once said, "Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God." Sound familiar? It's like the lyric in Hillsong's "Hosanna," "...Break my heart for what breaks yours..." Let this be our prayer as followers of Jesus.

During the month of September, I hope to post at least once a week addressing the different global issues present in our world. Each is Biblically significant. I pray that the Holy Spirit inspires you to see the world through God's eyes, and love others in the same way that He has loved us.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Faith in Action Pt.1: Water is Life

"He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water." Isaiah 49:10

In many thirsty, desolate communities, bleak life expectancy rates have imprinted a familiar saying – "water is life" – deep into the community’s state of mind. More than 1 billion people do not have access to clean, safe water. Their only alternative is to drink from dirty, disease-infested water sources. A child dies every 15 seconds from a water-related disease. This amounts to nearly 6,000 deaths, or the equivalent of 20 jumbo jets crashing, every day. Water related diseases, including cholera, typhoid, dysentery, and guinea worm, kill more than 5 million people every year. On the other hand, the average American uses 170 gallons of water every day. Americans spend more than $61 billion on soft drinks every year. That's 15 times USAID's (United States Agency for International Development) annual budget!

This picture is from my dad's trip to Uganda. For one village, this was the water source before construction of the clean water well. It's pretty gross, dirty and unhealthy for drinking, but people had no other option before construction of the clean water well.

Jesus often used water as an illustration of life (check out John 4 for an example), and he spoke of the impact made by providing even one cup of cold water (Matthew 10:42). When a community gains access to safe water, its children's chances of survival immediately double and the outlook of the entire community is transformed. It's not just water though transforming a community. It's the redeeming power of Jesus Christ that is really at work, through us.

A clean water well, constructed by World Vision. WaSH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) is one aspect of what World Vision does in its development work.

*All statistical information is from World Vision

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Faith in Action Pt.2: Feed the Hungry

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat." Matthew 25:35

Every 5 seconds a child dies because he or she was hungry. Every day 799 million people in developing countries – about one of every seven people worldwide – go hungry. On the other hand, Americans spend $20 billion annually on ice cream (I really do love ice cream), an amount that could feed 83 million hungry children for an entire year.

Organizations like World Vision have feeding centers that feed children and families who have either been displaced or are unable to grow their own food as a result of civil wars, famine, and drought.

When Jesus said, "I was hungry and you gave me something to eat," He was speaking on behalf of the poor and hungry throughout all generations. And no, that's not mind-blowing. Jesus is God, so he KNOWS.

Giving something as simple and a warm meal to someone in need is a tangible expression of our love for Christ. You can most definitely do that, by God's grace.

*All statistical information is from World Vision

Monday, August 29, 2011

Faith That Stops the Sun

"Of course every believer in Jesus has a measure of faith - it's the prerequisite of salvation. But after that, if we're honest, we think of faith primarily in terms of spiritual thought or comfortable feeling. We hope it's enough to get us into heaven when we die. But in the meantime, it's barely enough to keep us praying, giving, and going to the eleven o'clock service." These words come from Steven Furtick's book Sun Stand Still. A book written to activate audacious faith, to inspire believers to ask God for the impossible, and in the process, to reconnect believers with their God-sized purpose and potential. Don't be thrown off by the last part. The book is not about living your best life now, but instead about unleashing the greatness and potential that already exists in us because of the unlimited greatness of God that is in us.

I first heard Steven Furtick at the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit. I think what appealed to me most about his preaching style was how relevant he was, yet totally solid (again, if you want to check out divinely inspired, relevant sermons, check out Elevation Church). So I borrowed this book from my dad's vast library (thanks dad!) and started reading.

This book is based on a prayer in Joshua 10 that affected time and space (only God can do that!). Since the book is about believing God for the impossible, the foundation of its message is faith. You can't please God without it (Hebrews 11:6). You can't be saved apart from it (Ephesians 2:8). But way too many Christians have a distorted view of it. "If you're not daring to believe God for the impossible, you're sleeping through some of the best parts of your Christian life" (Steven Furtick). Ouch, that hurts me a little. I do not want to sleep through any part of my life, let alone the best parts.

Ok are you inspired yet? No? Well, keep reading anyway!

Hebrews 11 is known as the Hall of Fame of Faith. Here the author is calling believers of every generation to faithful endurance by use of testimonies from the lives of ancient saints. The author is challenging the audience to live lives of faith, according to the pattern of great heroes of faith. Now these great heroes were not just thinking about their faith, but instead were so inspired that they acted on their faith. These heroes were visionaries, not just daydreamers. What's the difference? The difference between a visionary and a daydreamer is the audacity and faith to actually act and get started. Faith believes it before it sees it and then acts - because faith without deeds is dead (James 2:26). Amen.

There's a story told of two farmers who prayed to God for rain, but only one went out to prepare his field to receive it. Now which farmer had more faith? (BTW this is not rhetorical, but um no comments on the answer...It's meant to be reflective :))

Monday, August 22, 2011

More Than Just Acts 2

Acts 2:42-47 is a celebrated (and rightly so) picture of what fellowship and community should look like amongst believers. But check out Paul's letter to the Ephesians too. I think Ephesians 4 complements Acts 2 really well, therefore making both passages all the more applicable to the growing Christian church.

"It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." Ephesians 4:11-16.

No other New Testament passage describes the church in action quite like Ephesians 4. Christianity is a faith that is God-directed, Christ-defined, and others-oriented. Christians are part of one body (or in another way, are part of each other) and therefore are to receive, think about, serve, love, build up, submit to, and encourage one another. Christianity is relational because God is relational. Our faith offers a strong basis for positive interactions with other human beings, simply because we share the distinction of being persons created in God's image. But relations among Christians have a much broader and firmer foundation. We share an identity in Christ.

Sadly, people in society today place such a low value on being truly connected, and those in the church are not much better. Why so sad? Because there are so many blessings that flow from being connected to the body of Christ! And who doesn't want to be blessed right?

You can't fully grow into everything God wants you to be unless you are connected to a local church or community. There's a great quote on Steven Furtick's blog on this very topic. "You must follow Jesus for yourself, but you can't follow him by yourself." (Side note: if you want more biblical encouragement or relevant sermons check out Elevation Church). I remember how it felt trying to function as a Christian in isolation. There was such a disconnect between my faith and my lifestyle and I hated myself for it. I didn't actually connect to a local church until my family moved to Michigan from Massachusetts when I was a senior in high school. It was then that I got involved in a small group (small groups definitely make a large church seem so much smaller), used my gifts in music to serve on the worship team, and started to build a solid Christian community of friends.  In the years since then, I've made it a point to be engaged in a local church or Christian community wherever I am. And I am totally receiving all the countless blessings as a result everyday.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

On Love #1

I am certain that this will not be my only post on the subject of love, hence the #1. Love is an ever present topic and thought that probably runs through any person's mind and is (or should be) experienced multiple times a day. I feel deeply for the person that does not get to experience any kind of love on a daily basis. But what is love? ("Baby don't hurt me.") It's such a hard concept to even try to explain as a Christian, because love experienced through Christ is so opposite to the world's view of love.

Yesterday I was in a situation where I had to show someone love in a difficult way. I had to present my sister with a harsh truth about her life. The kind of earth shaking, identity rocking truth that can really break a person. There was a lot of crying (on her part and mine) because we were both hurt that this had to happen. But that's just it, it had to happen.

I think Hebrews 10:19-39 addresses really well why and how Christians should love. Paul starts with, "Therefore my brothers, since we have a confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus..." Jesus is not ashamed to call all believers his brothers (and sisters), and Paul identifies with his readers by recognizing that they are brothers (and sisters) in Christ, and therefore in the family of God. His objective is to drive home the fact that by Christ's sacrifice (19,20) and priesthood (21), Christians have legit access to the very presence of God.

Based on that open access Paul then makes three appeals (22,23,24). "Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith..." Paul wanted the Christians in Jerusalem to actually use their privilege of access and intimacy with God. This approach to God in a personal relationship needed to be done with a "sincere heart." The new covenant in Jesus Christ changes hearts, but a continued loyalty of heart is still required of believers.

Paul's second appeal is, "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful." Because the Jerusalem Christians were in danger of letting go of their faith and hope in Christ, Paul repeatedly warns them to "hold fast" in their confidence and hope until the very end. The reason that Christians can have such a hope is because there is nothing more stable, steadfast, and unchanging than the faithfulness of God to His promises. God is faithful in every promise He makes. Our security and hope is founded on God's faithfulness, and every promise finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

Paul's third appeal is in how Christians should interact with each other. "Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds." The Jerusalem Christians had cared for one another, but Paul now wants them be mindful of the need to spur each other on. To spur literally means to prick, to provoke, to jab, or to needle. So in other words...PAINFUL. Paul wants them to encourage each other about the practicalities of mutual love and good deeds. Instead of the dead works of religion, Paul wants his fellow Christians to engage in "love and good works" among themselves. Christians have a collective responsibility to one another. The isolation and individualism of some Christians today is not compatible at all with the community of Christ illustrated in the Bible.

My sister ultimately thanked me for calling her out. Thinking about her reaction, I on the other hand, am less mature and probably would have stayed mad for days. But she instead was wise, and recognized truth when it was presented in love. I am usually so scared to hold my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ accountable for their sins, for fear of their reactions. But if I love my biological sister enough to present her with painful truth in love, should not my love for all Christians be in the same way?

Monday, August 15, 2011


Following in the typical first blog post tradition, I dare to ask the question "Why?!" Why blog? Why now? Why the name choice? Why do we exist? Ok so the last one's a little deep, maybe that will be a later post.

To be honest, I've always been apprehensive about personal blogs. They seem too much like a public journal, and I've wondered why anyone would think I would be interesting enough in order to voluntarily seek and read what I write.

The reason I started to blog was mainly on a deep conviction (thank you Holy Spirit) to share the lessons and truths I learn and face every day. Let me try to explain. My life is usually a whirlwind of activity filled with school, work, volunteering, some kind of social life and a few unexpected twists and turns. This summer has been a much needed, yet highly uneventful respite from all of that. At first, I spent most of my free time trying to find any way to entertain myself though movies, television, Facebook stalking and Stumbling. It wasn't until this month that I was convicted about how I spent my free time being a reflection of my relationship with Jesus. I had all this time to seek God in my rest and spend time with my Savior, and I was more interested in...well anything and everything else.

Only when I started to spend more time reading my Bible and seeking God in my daily activities did certain revelations make me so excited that I wanted to share them with anyone who would listen. In fact, it happened to me this morning while I was reading Nehemiah and 1 Corinthians. But I'm not the kind of person to just hit up one of my friends in the middle of day and start spilling about the complex ethical issues that face the church today. Texting so many words would wear out my poor thumbs.

So here we are. Adina's Affirmations. You think about the definition of affirmation, and it means an expression of agreement or commitment to something. This blog is an expression of my commitment to seek truth and using it for the purpose of encouragement to all who may read these words. It's also a chance for me to clearly communicate my faith and beliefs without (hopefully) sounding like a blueberry waffle (the words of my church's senior pastor, not mine).

More to come oh so soon. I'll leave you with this,
"If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord." -Romans 14:8 (NIV)

Song: "Tis So Sweet" by Jadon Lavik on Roots Run Deep