Friday, March 30, 2007

Ecclesiastes 9

In Ecclesiates 9 the Qoheleth ("Preacher") seems to be saying that if we knew the day of our death we would measure our days more carefully. Isn't this so true? How often do we scandalously waste our days because we live as if death is escapable? We fail to enjoy and appropriate expression to friends and lovers because we put off to another day what we should do today. We hurriedly inhale our food and drink, leaving little opportunity to savor the gift God has given to us in this provision, because we live in the world of demands and obligations of James 5, where we proclaim that we will go to this city and that city to make a profit without acknowledging that it is God who holds our lives in our hands. We are called, by God, to enjoy life because death stalks us all, and yet far too often we live as though, in our might, we will outrun the hunter who hunts us. This is a foolish deception. If you are interested come check out what else the Qoheleth has to say to us this Sunday morning at 9:30 a.m. in the college class.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Observation Evangelism

"So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: 'Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, To the unknown god. What therefore you worship as unknown this I proclaim to you.'"(Acts 17:22-23)

Three and a half years ago I decided to become a soccer referee. I had several things that motivated me to pursue this part-time vocation: 1) I enjoy futbol. I grew up playing the sport and wanted to stay connected; 2) I needed to be physically active; and 3) As a pastor who spends more than 90% of his time with church people, I wanted to rub shoulders with people who may or may not know Christ in a more purposeful and deliberate way than trying to strike up a random conversation about Jesus with the cashier at Walmart. With more than 60+ officials in our association (SSOA) I regularly get to interact with people with a variety of life values and complex worldviews and perspectives.

Being a pastor immediately sets you apart in the minds of some people. It causes some people to alter their behavior and makes others altogether uncomfortable. This regularly puts me at a disadvantage relationally, and the reality is that sometimes it causes me to hesitate to look for opportunities to testify about Jesus because I know that people may expect that from me. The result has been that in 3 1/2 years I've have only a few of the conversations about Jesus I had hoped to have when I began this journey as a referee with a purpose.

This past weekend I was invited to go on a trip to a soccer tournament. I wrestled with whether not to go because it meant that I would: 1) have to spend time away from my beautiful wife and two precious girls; and 2) have to take vacation - which in turn would impact my wife and children down the road. I eventually decided to take the trip because it meant that I would have four days to spend with guys who I have grown to care about and respect as men, but more importantly, because it is the kind of environment that lends itself to meaningful conversations about the gospel.

In the days leading up to the trip I prayed for at least one opportunity to speak about Jesus in a non-confrontational, winsome, compelling way free from the awkwardness of just bluntly asking, "What do you believe about Jesus Christ?" I was amazed at the countless opportunities that freely came up in conversation to speak about God, Jesus and the gospel and how effortlessly I had to work to do so and I simply made observations in regular conversation. This is precisely what Paul does at the Areopagus. He listens to the buzzing conversations of the locals, observes their customs, sizes up their religious practices and cultural context, and then uses this information to transition seamlessly into a conversation about Jesus.

This weekend I got to talk at length about Jesus, listen to the life stories of these men, and learn how to point them to Christ, not only in how I responded to each situation we encountered on the trip, but also in what I said in response. Here are some of my observations and commentary about this weekend:

1) Don't place cumbersome moral boundaries on unbelievers as long as their behavior isn't reckless, illegal or causing you to sin personally. Sometimes followers of Jesus have the habit of expecting unbelievers to behave like disciples of Jesus just because they are in their presence. Asking unbelievers to behave unnaturally isn't helpful or conducive to conversations about the gospel. We need to remember that those who don't know Jesus are always acting in accordance with their sinful nature in every response and demanding that they act differently simply because you are around promotes a legalism that is contrary to the grace of the gospel. Use the things that unbelievers find satisfaction in that aren't honoring to Jesus (love of money, excessive consumption of alcohol, profane language, insatiable appetitie for sex, boastful pride in their accomplishments, etc) as a way to speak to them about how supremely satisfying you find life with Jesus.

2) Listen well, even when you aren't directly being addressed. I spent over 6 hours in the car one way with two guys, and even when they weren't directly talking to me, they said many things that gave me the opportunity to learn more about their life, their beliefs, their values and ambitions. These "observations" provide ample fodder for trying to navigate your conversations in a spiritual direction.

3) Be real by not trying too hard to say and do everything right. Be open and honest in your responses to every conversation and remain acutely aware of your own need of the transforming power of the gospel in how you relate to life while around unbelievers. Everything said and done reflects either positively or negatively on the gospel of Jesus.

4) Pray. A lot. My awareness of the foolishness of the gospel to those who do not believe was heightened this weekend in my conversations with these men. In order for the seeds of faith to take root and germinate in the hearts of those who do not believe we need the power of the Holy Spirit to be at work. When I told my friend that trying to "do good" was an insufficient means to gaining acceptance by God he looked completely befuddled. As we talked about the sufficiency of Jesus' work on the cross as our righteousness and how Jesus' death was not meant to supplement our righteousness but become our righteousness, it appeared by the expression on his face that I was speaking Chinese. We need the power of God to rest on us as we share the gospel to those who do not believe.

5) Lastly, talking about Jesus isn't nearly as hard as we make it out to be. We just have to be intentional, listen to people, and seize the open doors to speak of Christ. Many topics came up this weekend that served as good gateway conversations to the Kingdom of God. Fear of unemployment, raising children, spousal relationships, unresolved anger, concerns about the future, love of pleasure, escaping through alcohol, and more we topics of conversation. Each topic provided an opportunity to speak about Jesus as long as I thought creatively and spoke courageously. All of the above topics deal with issues of pride, security, God's sovereignty, trust, satisfaction, fear and more - all issues that the gospel deals with specifically.

Here's a challenge: find an afternoon, day, or even weekend to spend with an unbelieving friend or two. Take a trip deep sea fishing. Go on a golf outing. Go out for coffeee. Take a shopping trip. Vacation with an unbelieving family. Do something over the next 6 months to have maximum exposure with someone who doesn't know Jesus. Then, relax, listen well, observe and be purposeful in your approach to conversations and see what doors the Spirit opens. You'll be surprised and how often Jesus can find his way into a conversation if you are looking to make room for Him.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Unbelievers Everywhere Are Laughing...At Us!

I found this linked on the Reformissionary blog. You might want to follow these instructions when watching: 1) Don't watch while in class - even if you have headphones - because you will probably bust out with a boisterous belly laugh when you hear this ridiculous apologetic from Ray Comfort; 2) Steer clear of others when watching - because if you aren't laughing it might be because you feel sick to your stomach at this argument which Comfort calls the "atheist's nightmare". Who are you kidding, Ray? This illustration is the nightmare.

However, it needs to be said that while we might hear this overly simplistic argument from design and chuckle at its perceived idiocy or bemoan the cultural mockery hurled our way as believers because this is the "best" apologetic we can come up with for an argument from design, Ray Comfort has been faithful to share the gospel of Jesus and has undoubtedly been used by God to bring others to faith in Jesus. We should all be encouraged by his zeal and compassion and tireless efforts to communicate the gospel in a winsome way - even when his creativity appears to fall flat and fails to achieve its desired goal.

Monday, March 19, 2007


I think I have blogger's block. I'm uninspired and all the events of the day seem...well...uninspiring.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Tortilla Oppression

In Ecclesiastes 4:1-3 the Qoheleth ("Preacher") surmises that there are only two types of people in the world: the oppressor's and the oppressed. In the US we have a collective national consciousness of being a nation that works to set captives free. We pride ourselves in being the land of opportunity, a nation where anyone can make anything of themselves if they are willing to work hard and seize their opportunities. Much of our foreign policy (so we are told) is motivated with the assumption that we fight for freedom, justice and equal opportunity for all people (although one would be naive to think that we are not self-serving in our meddling in foreign affairs). Nationally, it seems would like to think of ourselves as a nation that fights oppression, not inflicts it.

But there is a considerable crisis brewing in our neighboring nation, Mexico. The stakes are rising as our eco-system shows itself to be more and more out of balance, and America is scrambling (theoritically, though not yet in practice) to find alternate forms of energy to take the strain off of what appears to be an impending ecological apocalypse if we don't alter our natural resource consumption. As ethanol becomes a more popular form of fuel in the US, the effects of this demand are being felt significantly south of the border. Ethanol, which is made from corn and is fast becoming a viable substitute for Middle Eastern oil, is driving up the price of corn, which is good news for US-based farmers, but bad news for Mexicans who have become dependent on American corn. The result: supply is now exceeding demand and the ones paying the most are poor rural Mexicans whose calorie intake consists of about 70% from corn (tortillas).

Let's put this into perspective: Adolfo Barajas, part owner of a tortilleria now charges eight pesos per kilogram of tortillas, or about 73 cents for three dozen, enough to feed a modest family for a day. Putting those numbers next to Mexico's minimum wage of $4.60 per day is a reminder of poverty's unpleasant face. Most poor families in Mexico City alone can expect to spend the equivalent of what they would spend on rent or mortgage on tortillas.

What should the US do? I am not sure actually. Part of the blame for rising costs falls squarely into the laps of the Mexican government since, in most cases, importing American corn is cheaper than corn in Mexico. But the demand on corn in our country is leading to price-gouging in Mexico, and it is something that our country should not ignore.

All of this brings me to this shameful reality: the US is one of the 5 wealthiest countries in the world, and combined with those other countries, we consume 86% of the world's goods and resources. As Americans we work hard for what we have, and we shouldn't feel like we have to apologize for that. At the same time, what we have is almost always much more than we need, and in this way, we become the oppressors that the Qoheleth was frustrated with in Ecclesiastes. What we have in excess, the things that are luxuries for us, are purchased with resources that could be used to improve life for those who really are oppressed, who have no voice, and are circumstantially locked into a life of poverty they often can't escape without assistance. May God open our eyes to those in need around us and give us hearts of mercy to act as a true neighbor to those in need.

Women and Islam

Multiple articles over the past several days have piqued my interest about Islam and the alleged abuses against women that are actually encouraged and supported by the teaching of the Qu'ran (Koran). The March 3 edition of World magazine featured an article about Islamic dissident Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a devout-Muslim-turned-atheist Somali woman who is an outspoken critic of Islam, and as you might imagine, a high-profile target for Islamic extremists who want her dead. Her fame grew as a result of a 10-minute documentary she wrote for filmmaker Theo Van Gogh called Submission (watch film here; disclaimer: the women's naked bodies are veiled with a semi-transparent shroud with Qur'anic verses unfavorable toward women painted on their bodies in Arabic) which tells the story of four abused Muslim women. The story depicts the abuse of a woman flogged for fornication, a girl raped by her uncle, a wife beaten by her husband, and another woman forced into marriage. Van Gogh was later murdered by a Moroccan Muslim as he cycled to work, slitting his throat with a butcher knife and then stabbing a death threat made out to Hirsi Ali into his chest.

Today I came across an article about a 19-year old Saudi woman who was kidnapped, brutally raped, threatened to be killed, and had photos taken of her by seven men who has been sentenced to receive 90 lashes for the crime of being alone with a man not related to her in conjunction with Saudi Arabia's Islamic based law. The assault was the result of a blackmail attempt to extort the woman because she feared being exposed for having a relationship outside of wedlock, which is illegal in Saudi Arabia. After agreeing to meet the man with whom she had a relationship, they drove off and were later stopped by two other cars with men wielding knives and meat cleavers. She was then beaten and raped 14 times by the seven men. The ruling for her punishment comes as a result of her agreeing to meet the man in the car alone. Those found guilty of rape were sentenced to 5 to 10 years in prison because there were not witnesses to the crime and the men later recanted their confessions during interrogation.

While Christians view their relationship with God as one like that of a Father-son, Father-daughter relationship, Muslims have a much more distant view of relationship with Allah. They define this relationship in terms of master-servant or master-slave. The Word of God tells us that Jesus has pursued His bride to the cross, and that husbands should love their wives in the same way (Eph 5). But this is a foreign concept to Muslims, in part, because of the nature of their relationship with God. Men are to serve as protector and provider for their wives, in part because they view women as the weaker sex, and in part because their view of marriage mirrors their theology. As Marvin Olasky said, "...a husband is to a wife as a master is to a servant or slave."

Because of this view of marriage, it should not surprise us to hear of gross abuses of women within Islamic culture (though this is certainly not true of all Muslims and is a broad generalization). However broad it may be, we must not ignore that reality that the Qu'ran, the most holy, sacred book for Muslims, advocates the mistreatment of women. The Qu'ran calls husbands "guardians" and notes in chapter 4 verse 34 that women can be beaten: "admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them." Muslims can be polygamous, based loosely on the model of Muhammed. They can have a maximum of four wives. Within traditional Muslim societies women are subject to the authority of a father and then a husband. A Muslim woman is not to go out by herself. She must not draw attention to her beauty by showing skin or by failing to wear a head covering. This is intended to commend respect for women and deter lustful fantasies by Muslim men.

All of this to suggest that we, as believers in Jesus Christ, who marvel at and cherish the image of God within every person, should pray often for Muslim women as God brings them to mind. The Islamic culture is not a culture that values the role of women in exercising dominion of the earth the way that we are called to value women biblically. We must pray that God would set Muslim women free from oppression and abuse where it exists. We should pray for this young 19-year old rape victim, that God would fight on her behalf and vindicate her and justice would be served. We should pray for the gospel to go forth in Muslim countries and that women, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali would come to faith in Jesus Christ. And we should learn as much as we can about Islamic faith and culture. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, and if statistics hold true, Muslims will soon be the religious majority in Europe. We must learn, as followers of Jesus, how to dialogue and engage Muslims for the sake of the gospel. Eternity is at stake for billions.

Friday, March 02, 2007

When Social Replaces Moral

We live in a culture that prizes the right to fight for and pursue love. We even spend billions entertaining ourselves by dramatizing the romantic courtship that most individuals hope to experience in reality one day in movies and television dramas and sitcoms. But how should we respond when romance, true, sincere, committed, though clearly misunderstood and deceptive, love blooms within the nuclear family? A young couple in Germany is challenging the right of the government to ban incestuous relationships (go to and look under the video section on the main page for a brief interview).

The siblings were not raised together until they met as teenagers. The male sibling was raised in foster care, and upon finding his birth mother and sister as a teenager, they moved in together as a family. After the death of their mother, the brother and sister continued to live together and fell in "love". For those concerned about the morality of incest, Scripture could not be clearer in its prohibitions against incestuous relationships (Leviticus 18:1cf; 2Sam 13:12; Ezekiel 22:11; Rom 1:26cf). Incest is a sin. Scripture calls it an abomination - even if you love each other.

If you are still reading and not off vomiting in a toilet because you are digusted at the perverse notion that siblings would have sexual intercourse with one another, here is what piqued my interest in this story. Dr. Endrick Wilhelm, who hopes to take this case to the highest court in Germany (and it should be noted that many governments in Europe have already legalized incestuous relationships) argues that since "incest is not socially harmful" no government has the right to punish it because government can only punish and sanction those actions and behaviors that are socially harmful to either the offender or victim. Only socially harmful actions fall under the jurisdiction of the government.

This logic begs the question: Socially harmful to whom? One strong argument against the merits of incestuous relationships (aside from the biblical prohibition) is that children conceived by siblings are only healthy 50% of the time. 20% suffer brain damage and 30% are left with massive physical disabilities, and many die prematurely. As a matter of fact, the couple in question have 4 children and 2 of them have disabilities (although the nature of those disabilities were not disclosed).

It is a sad commentary that government in Europe (and we are on the fast track here in the US) no longer even attempts to legislate morality but has transitioned into a culture that enforces laws of decency and morality only when the behavior of offenders is harmful to others. What about the harmful effects of deviant behavior to oneself?

Interesting topic on an interesting day. I'd love to hear your thoughts.