Thursday, March 25, 2010

March Madness and Jesus' Mission

March Madness is my favorite sports event all year. I love how NCAA basketball is on television from the time I wake up to the time I go to sleep (well, for the most part anyway). I love the purity of those who are playing, as exhibited by Cornell University and Northern Iowa this year. I love how the tournament through filling out brackets gets my wife into interested, as well as creating an avenue for my friends and family to reconnect. I also love how exciting the games are with the buzzer beaters, strategies, competition, and amazing athletes. When thinking through this, I was brought to a point where the greatness of March Madness is parallel to the greatness of our faith.

Jesus’ Mission is All-day, Everyday. He says that we are to be in the world not of it, and he prays for our protection from the evil one, that we would be protected when faced with temptation, opposition, persecution, etc. While far too many of us have adapted to the world instead of transforming it (In our language, entertainment, attitude, reactions), we must remember that we no more belong to the world than Jesus himself does.

Another similarity is that Jesus’ Mission is Pure. We all need to be sanctified. Sanctified comes from the Greek word hagios, which means holy or different or separate with 2 meanings: To set apart for a special task and to equip with the qualities of mind and heart and character which are necessary for that task. Simply put, we need to trade the rubbish of the world for something better God has for us! Here is the irony of the world we live in: the world is the enemy of our purity, yet in Jesus’ prayer it is the object of a living purpose expressed in mission.

Jesus’ Mission is also All-Inclusive. The directive to proclaim Christ to others is to the calling of every believer. Many think to live on mission equals us going on a mission trip (to Nicaragua, Alabama, Dallas, Nicaragua, etc), but the reality is going is as central to Christianity as love is. It is part of his nature, and you cannot spell God without GO! It is not special for the pastors or those on mission trips – its for every Christ follower. Evangelizing, sharing Jesus with others is the call of everyone who calls themselves Christian. To take the pressure off we need to understand 2 things: Our job is to share Jesus with others, not save them and we cannot save anyone, only Jesus can do that.

The problem is that we tend to see ourselves as business people trying to earn a paycheck when Jesus sends us out as His representatives or His missionaries. Thus, we need to think like missionaries. This occurs by being constantly aware of the lostness around you; constantly prayerful of those outside of a relationship with Christ; constantly looking for opportunities to share Christ; and constantly living as a person in a relationship with Christ. God’s mission is fulfilled through you and me and everyone else who identifies with Him

The final parallel is that Jesus’ Mission is Exciting. Jesus told us, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” The same mission Jesus came to earth to fulfill is the same we are to fulfill. We are to bear witness to God (and produce followers of God), just as Jesus has done. God equips you for His work – the Holy Spirit is constantly moving, working through and around you.

Recently, I had the opportunity to lead a person to Christ. It was exhilarating to listen to this man I had not seen in 9 months refer to our previous conversation where I shared Christ with him by saying when asked if he had thought about our conversation, “I think about it very much, many times.” Although I was not around to share with him and although no one had spoken to him about Jesus, the Holy Spirit was speaking to him “very much, many times!” There is nothing as exciting as leading a person to Christ and it is my hope we will all join in the excitement our Lord and Savior calls us to engage in!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Book Review: Forgotten God by Chan

I thought Crazy Love was crazy good, so my expectation was high for Forgotten God… it did not live up to that expectation for me. While I think Chan is a great man with admirable passion, this book simply did not do it for me.

With that being said, there were some good points in the book. Starting off he throws down intense exegesis (letting the text speak for itself) verse eisegesis (making the text say what you want it to say) explanation which is not only relevant, it is needed. He is dead on accurate with his statements that we tend to leave out the Holy Spirit and rely on what we can do as well. His work has some great thought provoking points as well.

Chapter 6 was my favorite chapter, although the title is a bit abrasive for some in my opinion. So in short, if you want a contemporary view of the Holy Spirit, read this book… Just enter into the pages with a different mindset than that of Crazy Love.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Book Review: Transforming Children Into Spiritual Champions by Barna

As a minister, Transforming Children Into Spiritual Champions is the best parenting book I have ever read. Not only would I recommend it for anyone who works in a church, I would strongly recommend it to parents as well. We have a tendency to pawn off the responsibility of our children’s spiritual formation onto the church, when that is in fact anti-biblical and anti-productive.

Barna lays the groundwork for this work by establishing clear facts through research. From there, he lays down a Scriptural mandate for how God instructs us to raise our children. Then he provides solutions to the problem areas.

Not only that, the book also points out of failure to measure the effectiveness of our children’s spiritual development and just assume church’s are doing a good job, while giving quantifiable means by which to measure that process. Herein lies the true nugget of this book, it constantly provides solutions to real problems that come with raising Spiritual Champions.

For me, this is a book that will affect the way I do ministry in the future. It will cause me to think through the biblical role of the church and the biblical role of the family. While reading this book, I kept thinking I had read parts of this before. It would appear that Family Driven Faith (by Baucham) mirrored this book (written 4 years prior to his) in regards to philosophy and practice, although never specifically cited (Baucham did cite other Barna works).

Anyway, if you liked Family Driven Faith, you will love Transforming Children Into Spiritual Champions.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Athens Trip – March 2010, Day 7

Today we started off in Monastiraki, which is the major tourist spot in Athens, to grab a quick lunch and a couple of things for our family. After a short period there, we hiked up to Mars Hills to a time of Bible study, prayer, and reflection. It was fantastic to have such great reason to praise God and to talk through our trip. For me personally, I also enjoyed working on my sermon for Sunday from that key place in Greek Christian history… hopefully, the message will be as inspiring as Paul’s unknown God message!

Anyway, once we finished our time at Mars Hill, we made our way to Holargos. Today was different at our main campus because the students were receiving their marks or grades. Due to “report card day” they did not have the usual sports programs, but we were able to talk to the kids and say our goodbyes for now.

At 5:00, Sophia (the primary basketball director) drove us to a school we had never been at before to allow us to lead basketball with those children. The kids in this program were in 2nd and 3rd grade (7-8 years old – younger than our normal group). Unlike the other school, all of the parents came with them and we had a brief time to meet all of them. It was fun playing with the younger kids, and being able to lead the entirety of the session. We were not expecting to be given the reigns in this school, but we were elated to do so – we will definitely have to think through some age appropriate drills for next time!

Another cool thing about today was that our friend from America that has recently moved here joined us today; his name is Ryan. He has a very good heart and great mind for how to Shine in this country. We are excited to see how God uses him here and what will come of our newfound friendship. Fortunately, we were able to introduce him to Sophia, and he might even be able to enroll his own children in the sports academy of Holargos! It would be incredible for them to have an ongoing relationship with the workers and municipality – please pray this works out!

Ryan was also able to meet Bill. We stopped by Bill’s restaurant and introduced them to one another. Bill has a very busy schedule, but we are hoping he makes time to study the Word with Ryan and develop a friendship with him as well – please pray for this too! Our time with Ryan today, playing with children, introducing him to our friends, and dialoging about our work here encouraged our hearts greatly. It is our hope to continue this partnership and watch what happens!

Whenever I return home, I will do a summary of our trip. As a final prayer request, please pray that God would bless us with a safe and uneventful trip home. God is good, and He is definitely moving here!

Bill Accepted Christ!

Today we had what we have been praying for, a person accepted Christ. Although it happened today, this story is months in the making. Last May we all decided to try an American restaurant. The food was the same, but different… meaning not exactly as it is back home, but close.

Anyway, when we left the restaurant last May, we left a copy of God’s Word as well. The next day, a couple of us stopped by to say hello again and noticed that he kept it and put it on his desk. He told me I left it and asked if I wanted it back, I responded with “no thanks, I don’t speak Greek, you keep it.” That led to an opportunity to talk about faith, God, and the plan of salvation. He was very close to accepting, but hesitated and said he wanted to think about it a little more.

Yesterday we stopped by, to see if he still worked there. When we saw him, we told him we planned on coming back the next day to eat lunch. Once we finished our lunch today, I asked him if he remembered our conversation and if he had thought about it any since the last time I was there, he said he had thought about it many times – the power of the HS at work! I went through the Roman Road and asked him what he thought. I asked him if he wanted Jesus to be his Lord and to save him his sins. He said he every much wanted to do so, but in private… then another customer interrupted to pay his bill.

A few minutes later, as Jamie and I were praying, I told Jamie that I was going to give him the “Share Jesus Without Fear” final question, “why wait?” I approached him and asked if I could ask him for permission to ask a question, which he replied yes to. My question was from our previous conversation, “if you knew that you could have peace with God and he would save you from your sins for all time, for eternity, why would you wait?” His response was awesome. He said, “I did not wait. I asked God to save me just now, here (in his office). I know I do not need a priest to talk to God, and He has forgiven me of my sins.”

I was totally blown away with his incredible response! Everything we had talked about, he acknowledged in his own words and his own way. He said that he would continue to read his Bible (which he said he had done a few times since he received it) and pray. Our friends from America who live here will also continue to follow up with him as well. Our hope and prayer is that he will grow in his knowledge, understanding, and relationship with Jesus. Pray for our new brother in Christ!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Athens Trip – March 2010, Day 6

Today we started by going to my favorite place in Holargos, the local tennis club. For whatever reason, I find it to be extremely relaxing and enjoyable. The main worker there, Helen, remembered me when I came in and even asked if Christy was with me – pretty cool that she remembers her too! We visited for a little bit, but had limited conversation as the club was extremely busy. (Whenever we walk from one place to another in town, we have been trained to constantly pray for those we come in contact with, Raymond taught us that!)

Next we went to visit another friend over lunch, someone we had the opportunity to share with last May. As we came in, he was excited to see us (he knew we were coming). We spoke briefly before we ate, but spoke for a good amount of time afterwards. Long story short, he not only remembered our previous conversation, he had been thinking about it and reading his Bible. After going through the plan of salvation and what it means for Jesus to be Lord of your life, he thought about it and asked Jesus to be his Savior and Lord! This was so exciting!!!

Something else of note today happened on our way to the municipality, we saw a group of teenagers reading and passing around a Bible. We had no clue what they were saying, but we do know it was a Bible and we also know they were reading and talking about it. In the same way that God worked in the man’s heart in the restaurant, he can work in these teenagers lives as well! He is so faithful and so able to break through anywhere at any time through anyone for anyone! God is so much better and capable than we can imagine. The Holy Spirit is always at work in the hearts and lives of people, we just need to instrument who declare His glory and exalt Jesus.

After our incredible experience, we went to the school we work at and played basketball with the kids. Usually we will run drills or participate with them, but due to cold weather they typically cancel… However, today there were about 14 or so kids who showed up, “because they knew we would be there.” HOW AWESOME IS THAT!

Anyway, we played with them for a little over 2 hours and then had to leave… because Jamie got his lip all busted up! One of the kids accidently hit Jamie’s lip with his head going to a ball. Fortunately, we were able to get some ice from a local music cafĂ© and stop the bleeding. The poor kid who messed Jamie’s face up felt terrible and profusely apologized. Jamie kept trying to reassure him it was not big deal and not to worry about it, but the guy still felt bad.

For dinner, we returned to the restaurant we ate at the other day with our friends Kostas & Catalina. Believe it or not, we order the goat again, with some pork as well. It was a good dinner and a fantastic day. God is good!!!

There are 3 other things you need to know about this day that are quite funny:
1. Jamie wore shorts today. He has been bound and determined to do so since we first decided to come, and today he did. Never mind that it was below 50* all day (except for 15 minutes, maybe). It was so cold, the sports academy in our municipality cancelled the programs… but Jamie wore his shorts. To his credit though, we did see 2 other people in shorts, in a city that has more that 5 million people! (Notice the heavy coats and scarves the people are wearing next to Jamie... who is in his shorts)

2. We saw a dude with a man purse or as Jerry Seinfeld calls it, a European carry-all!

3. Jamie got his tail whopped by a 10 year old… (ahem, suffering for Jesus) then proceeded to eat an orange in a quite humorous way.

(Goat, it's what's for dinner)
(A health club with an interesting name, Gym N' Tonic)
(The tennic club)

Athens Trip – March 2010, Day 5

Our time in Athens keeps getting better and better. Monday we had an opportunity to spend the entire day in our neighborhood. We started off with prayer walking. Going through the municipality, and asking God for opportunities for His light to shine and for favor in developing relationships. We even had the opportunity to hike up a small mountain that overlooks Holargos for pray for the entire community.

We were surprised to find that a market was going on, and had the opportunity to walk through that as well. Since it is in the end of the winter season here, I was not expecting it, but it is always interesting to see the various people selling fruit, flowers, fish, clothing, and random supplies. By the way, non-brand name sweat pants will cost you 5 Euros, but knock Puma sweat pants will cost you 8, which really amused me for some reason.

The funniest part of the day was visiting Kostas’ office to mess with a lady named Effi. She is the person in the office who said she thought we were some sort of s-p-i-e-s. Kostas had given me some personal information about her to mess with her a little, and it was quite effective. We went into the office and I sat down at her desk. Immediately I asked her specific questions about her family and told her I had been watching her. She and her coworker (our friend Nikki) looked completely stunned!

I went on and told her, “I don’t think we have officially met, I am Jason Bourne and this is my friend Bond, James Bond” (referring to Jamie). Immediately they knew Kostas had let us in on her conspiracy theory and we all had a good laugh. This might seem like a small thing, but to me, it is huge in deepening our friendship and relationship with the people in Holargos.

Later on, we made it to the schools where we played basketball and participated in the drills with the kids. Sophia, the basketball instructor, was happy to see us and had us play games that would involve us with the children. It was really cool to see some of them who recognized us and were happy we made it over again. Not only did we interact during the scheduled academy time (5:00-6:00), we played for about 45 minutes before and 90 minutes afterwards. We had a great time and are ready to return tomorrow!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Athens Trip – March 2010, Day 4

Today was a great day. After breakfast, we headed to Holargos to watch their semi-professional teams play basketball. The women’s game started at noon, and they scored an easy win. We enjoyed watching the elbows fly and some of the players get intense, but we were concerned when our friend Kostas did not show up.

At the conclusion of the game, I called him on his cell, but he did not answer. We were quite disappointed and decided to grab lunch before the men’s game. On our way to a local restaurant, Kostas called and asked if we could meet him at 3:00, which we were more than happy to do. He took us to a Cretan place called Biftekaaatsi. Amazingly enough, he gave us the name of the place and the street and we managed to find our way there – keep in mind we do not speak the language, had no idea where the street was, and I thought the place was called Vistacatsi!

Anyway, Kostas showed up with his wife Catalina. We had been told that most Greeks will eat dinner for at least 2 hours, so we were expecting that the meal would last until the men’s game started at 5:00. Somewhere around 6:40, we figured that we would not be able to make the game at all, which was fine by us.

Our time with Kostas and his wife was awesome. There are many interesting things about the dinner. First of all, we asked them to order for us, which they did. They started off with several appetizers: a huge bruschetta-like bread thing (almost like a bagel with tomato and goat cheese), goat cheese wrapped in a crescent and covered with honey, sausage, cabbage rolls, and a salad with honey mustard. Then we had our main courses: chicken, meat patties, and goat with pasta. Ironically enough, the goat had the best flavor (I would have taken pictures of it all, but I did not want to look too goofy).

We talked about lots for different things as well, from family to politics to culture. They have a 15 year old boy and a 10 year old girl, and we face the same basic issues with our kids – wanting them to be respectful, caring for their future, desiring to protect them from the rubbish on TV, etc. Due to the Greek economic crisis, they have many concerns about what is going on in their county, but maintained a relatively positive attitude. They said the biggest problem within their culture is that the people do not follow simple laws.

The dinner ended with them driving us to our bus stop and inviting us to their house the next time we are in town. We plan on seeing Kostas and his staff tomorrow. As is the case with most of the people we are in contact with over here, they do not understand why we are here. In fact, one of the women in his office is convinced that we are some sort of s-p-i-e-s, which is absurd and hilarious, especially since we are involved with sports - I told them we want to learn how to better play soccer... Anyway, he gave us some information on her to rattle her cage a little tomorrow, which we are really looking forward to doing.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Athens Trip – March 2010, Day 3

Today was the only day where we did not have plans this trip. We took it easy and slept in, then tried to figure out what exactly we wanted to do. We decided to go to Piraeus, the main port city in Athens that we had ran through on our last trip, but did not have time to walk through. A couple of stops before we arrived on the Metro, we learned that the green line did not make it all the way to Piraeus due to construction. However, we were able to find our way there on the bus.

Once we arrived, we found that the city was dead, probably due to the Metro not running into town. Having seen a futbol (soccer) stadium, we asked an information desk worker if there was a game there this evening. She said there was so we decided to go there and check it out.

The stadium is home of the Olympiacos Futbol Club. The game started at 7:00PM, which was less than 2 hours. We decided it was a unique opportunity worth capitalizing on, so we purchased tickets for 15 Euros and went to the game.

The fans chanted during most of the game, but it was primarily limited to one rowdy section or quarter of the stadium. They sang, jumped, threw stuff onto the field, and even started fires with flames. It was pretty cool to watch… from the other side of the stadium! Olympiacos tied 2-2, which was disappointing for them because they dropped out of first place to a team that was near the bottom of the league.

This is a picture of Jamie & me and their mascot... He was friendlier with Jamie than me, which I was grateful for!

Athens Trip – March 2010, Day 1 & 2

We had a really good trip from Tulsa to Athens, with the exception of the ungodly start time, 4:15AM! Our first flight departed Tulsa at 6:00AM for Detroit. We had the perfect visit there too, only 35 minutes. We raced from one side of the airport to the other, leaving enough time to grab coffee and jumped on the plane headed to JFK (New York).

Once we landed at JFK, Jamie turned on his phone to receive about a dozen text messages informing us that the Greek public transportation was on strike, including the airport, meaning we would not be able to land or enter Greece. The major thing that was forgotten is that although we left on Thursday, we would not arrive into Athens until Friday, thus the trip was still on. We departed NY at 4:10PM and landed in Athens (ATH) around 9:30AM on Friday.

We were meet by our American friend Jonathan, and took the metro train from the airport to Syntagma Square, the location of our airport. We checked in, dropped off our luggage, and headed straight to Holargos to visit with our friend Kostas. Kostas is the director of athletics for his municipality and has become a good friend. We set up events for Sunday through Thursday, including eating lunch with him (and maybe his family) on Sunday.

Later that Friday evening, we had the opportunity to go to a refugee center. There are some people who have started a work there reaching out to Muslims. They feed them, provide food for them, and share with them. Last year alone 70 people were born again. On Friday night we were able to see a group of men receive certificates and share their stories, it was awesome.

We ended the night having dinner with a group of 20 world changers from Oklahoma (Nowata) and Alabama. They will have 80 people total once they all arrive, which will give the local team here much support. Although we had been told that they would be largely working with us in our neighborhood, they will now be doing something different. All in all, it was a good day and we are excited to see what will come of our trip!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Romance Factor

The Romance Factor
Use all five senses to connect with your spouse.

Remember when you and your spouse were dating? When dinner was consumed to the strains of soft music instead of to Sponge Bob? In the day-to-day busyness of married life, romance is often the first thing to go. Yet the “Romance Factor” can have a high impact on the success of your marriage.

The Romance Factor encompasses much more than just sex. It invokes the five senses: sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch. It’s the emotional, spiritual, and physical connection between a husband and wife.

In my work as a romantic events planner and consultant, I discuss romantic preferences with a lot of husbands and wives. You might be surprised to hear that many men enjoy romance just as much as women!

Yet, many marriages neglect the Romance Factor. We’re so busy with our children, houses, jobs, and church obligations, that we forget to reserve time just for our spouse. After a long day, we collapse into bed, exhausted. No time—or energy—for romance.

But with a little effort, romance can become second nature. While planning ahead is great, so is a spontaneous romantic evening. Try the following techniques, and see if you don’t find yourself spending an unforgettable evening with the one you love.

The Sight of Romance
Start by making your bedroom a romantic sanctuary, where you can shut out the world and enter a paradise created for two. Sight plays a significant part in everyday life, so just imagine how important it is to romance. Many are attracted by the sight of their intended before they actually speak to them. So make your sanctuary a sight to behold.

You can do this by making just a few minor adjustments to the room. First, clear the clutter. If your bedroom is like most, it may have become a catchall for clothes, papers, books, and toys. Once you’ve achieved a clean room, change the lighting by adding candles—the more, the better. Choosing lower wattage light bulbs will give you a similar effect. The soft glow of candlelight will enhance the appearance of even the most ordinary room.

Next, spruce up the room with flowers and rose petals. Don’t worry about creating a mess; concentrate on creating an oasis. Be careful not to overdo the flowers, though, since their fragrance can be overpowering. You may opt for artificial or silk flowers as a resourceful substitute.

You may even consider a few decorating tricks to enhance the bed. Drape sheer, richly colored fabrics across your headboard, over your window treatments, or hang them from the ceiling (with hooks from your local hardware store). You’re going for exotic here, so the sky’s the limit. Imagination plays a large part in how appealing your romantic oasis will be.

The Smell of Romance
Scent is an important component in the art of romance. Smell can be an excellent inlet to passion; it stimulates areas in the brain that affect the way we feel and react. Just think of the way you respond when you smell fresh bread baking. The aroma causes your taste buds to swell, your mouth to water, and your mind to wonder. Scent is a powerful instrument.

Aromatherapy is making quite an impact these days. Experiment with different fragrances to find which ones work best with you and your mate.

Some I’ve found to be particularly effective are vanilla, coconut, chocolate, lavender, and jasmine. Scented candles are excellent for stimulating two senses instead of one: sight and smell. Check out some of the aromatherapy stores in your area.

The Sound of Romance
Sound can mean music playing softly or the way you whisper your spouse’s name. Speaking in low sexy tones is a definite turn-on for many men. The soft sound of a woman’s voice in its natural God-given state can melt the strongest man’s heart.

The music you choose is just as important. Whether it’s soothing jazz or your favorite oldies but goodies, make it something you both enjoy. Music melts away the day’s stresses and struggles. And music can also be the catalyst to another technique, touch. Music sets the stage for dancing, if your sanctuary is large enough. If not, just listening with your love can be stimulating.

The Taste of Romance
My grandmother used to say the best way to a man’s heart was through his stomach. Boy, is that true. Sometimes nothing inspires a man more than a mouthwatering meal and sweet treats. Prepare a simple yet elegant meal for two or a tray of delectable mini desserts. Experiment with tropical, exotic tastes and don’t forget the dark chocolate, which is said to be an effective aphrodisiac.

You don’t have to be Betty Crocker in the kitchen. Many grocery stores have freshly prepared meals in the deli section. Even those chocolate-covered strawberries are readily available in the produce section. Your favorite restaurant is also a good place to provide meals on the go.

The Touch of Romance
This is the last and definitely the most powerful element in the Romance Factor. The bond of physical contact is one of God’s most enduring senses. In the beginning of life, the touch of a mother to her newborn begins the human need for touch. We’re created to crave this on a daily basis. A hug, a caress, or a kiss arouse the tiny blood vessels located just beneath the skin in our bodies. In a marriage, touch forms a connection between husband and wife. One way to use touch is through the art of massage. Try taking a massage class together or get a book on proper massage techniques. This will teach you about pressure points and areas of concentration for a romantic, relaxing evening.

Caution!There’s one important prerequisite to using the Romance Factor techniques: communication. Communicate honestly with your spouse to learn his or her wants and needs. Just ask. Sometimes, too, a little experimentation will reveal what each of you likes or dislikes. Then let the Romance Factor take your breath away.

By Twanda R. Smith, for the study, “What’s Romance Got to Do With It?”

Monday, March 1, 2010

Your Words of Encouragement Matter

This is from Craig Groschel, he posted this today. It is a powerful example of the affirmation we all need from time to time. As a pastor, it is much more important to hear how God has used you than "good job on that message." Here is his post:
Dear Church,

Thank you so much for taking time to share how God is working in your life. Knowing that our ministry is making a difference is often all I need to keep going when I’d rather give up.

As your pastor, I’m way more “human” than I’d like to be. In my best moments, I’m fully convinced of God’s calling and presence. In my worst moments, I feel weak, insecure and totally ineffective as a Christian, much less the shepherd of a flock.

Just last week, one of you took the time to tell me how God has used our church to change your life for the better. I didn’t tell you, but on the inside I was wondering if my efforts mattered. God used your words to minister to me in a deep way.

Thanks so much for telling me how God is working in your life!

How has God used your church to minister to you?