Learning From My Mistakes

As I approach my 20th year of ordained ministry, I can say that my biggest mistake has been trying to will transformation in people's lives. At one point, I was so consumed by my own efforts and creative ideas to revitalize a church that I completely omitted God from the process. I was going to do it by the sheer force of my determination and work ethic.

Right. Try that. See how it works for you. I was trying to lead people towards abundant living, but I didn't know it myself. Guess what? I didn't lead them very far or very well.

Psalm 30 became a constant refrain for me as I found my heart crying "out of the depths." I had to address certain habits and ways of thinking in my own life before I was going to lead effectively towards vitality in Christ. 

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Entrepreneurialism and God's Mission

There comes a day when we sit back and ask ourselves what we are going to do with our lives. In a sense, I’m still asking myself that question. But many years ago, while studying Spanish as a university student in Paraguay, I felt a nudge, a call if you will, to spend time in cross-cultural contexts advancing the gospel.

At the time, I had no idea what that entailed. The only role models I had to look to were the missionaries I had met and gotten to know in Paraguay. They were either medical doctors or preachers. As a business student, it seemed I would have to leave behind my business interests and develop a new set of skills.

Thankfully, I’ve always been good with language and have enjoyed speaking and teaching so over the years, that became the primary focus of my ministry. But a few years into my overseas ministry, I began to ask myself some new questions about why couldn’t one be a businessperson and a kingdom builder at the same time?

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To Pray or Not to Pray?

Everybody sure is talking about prayer these days. Between the hoopla over the National Day of Prayer and Franklin Graham's insistence that he be allowed to pray inside the Pentagon, prayer seems to be on everybody's lips, media included. That's a good thing, right? I'm not so sure.

Consider how we got to this interesting place, where the very idea of public praying has become controversial. First, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb in Madison last month found the National Day of Prayer, established by Congress 58 years ago and held on the first Thursday of May, to be unconstitutional.

Then, on Aprill 22 the U.S. Army "disinvited" Franklin Graham, who had been scheduled to speak at a Pentagon National Day of Prayer event because his comments about Islam were "inappropriate.'

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Jesus in the Workplace

There seems to be a serious conflict with our current lives and strongly held concepts about church and ministry.

So many churches that I know of, which are actually great churches, hold to a local church-centric view of ministry. This means that the goal of the staff is to get the lay people involved in ministry, which is defined as either volunteering at the physical church location or through church organized service projects in the community.

Undoubtedly both of those are valuable and needed avenues. However, this is really what I call "faith addition", living your faith means 'adding' certain activities to your already busy life.

The contrast to this is "faith integration', living your faith means integrating your faith into whatever you are doing.

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Friendship, Suicide, Loss and Jesus

I had this friend named Collette.  I met her in a creative writing class at my junior college.  As I recall she had written a story which turned out to be a thinly veiled story about herself, in which the main character was dealing with some conflict with her husband.  I mentioned in the feedback that the story was frightening, to see such a clear example of spousal abuse, and she came and talked to me afterward, to ask if I really thought what she had written about constituted abuse.  I told her I thought it did, and in some mysterious way this caused us to become friends.  That's my first memory of Collette.

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Reality of the Resurrection -- Part 3

What do these facts point to?  That Jesus Christ is no longer dead.  His resurrection explains all five facts very well.  The minimal facts give us solid evidence He has risen indeed.  However, that won’t stop the skeptic from offering other explanations.  When you encounter one, remember this:  just because an alternative explanation is possible, it does not make it probable.  Anyone can give a different explanation but we want one that best fits the facts.  

For example, some scholars suggest the disciples stole Jesus’ body.  Does that fit the facts?  No way.  It doesn’t explain the resurrection appearances of Jesus.  It doesn’t explain Paul or James’ conversions.  Indeed, if the disciples stole Jesus’ body then they knew his resurrection was a hoax.  But why would they die for something they knew was false?  They wouldn’t and thus, we can discard this possible explanation.
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Conversations With Mormons Part 2

We began the training for our trip to Utah with forty students. Some dropped out for different reasons, but a common theme was they thought we were going to “beat up on Mormons.” I’ve never received criticism from Christians for our mission trips to Berkeley where we engage atheists and agnostics, but a decent number of Christians felt we shouldn’t be going on a mission trip to Utah. Why is this? I’d love to know what some of you think.

The conclusion I’ve come to is that many Christians don’t fully understand the depravity of man. Mormons are nice, well-meaning people who believe in family values. So, who are we to try and convert them? Isn’t this intolerant? It seems to me that we confuse the difference between goodness and niceness. I’ve certainly done this many times in my own life. Most Mormons are certainly nice, but does that mean they are good? According to Isaiah 64:6, “All of our righteous deeds are like filthy garments.” Mormons are just as sinful and in desperate need of God’s grace as anyone else (myself included).

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Reality of the Resurrection -- Part 2

Do we have any facts that support the historical resurrection of Jesus?  Absolutely.  And we won’t just use arguments from guys on our side.  To make the strongest possible case, we’ll rely on those facts that virtually all scholars who study this subject agree upon, including critics of Christianity.  Resurrection scholars Gary Habermas and Michael Licona call this the “minimal facts” approach.  

Notice, this approach does not require us to defend an error-free Bible.  It does not require us to show the Bible is the inspired word of God.  Although important issues, inerrancy and inspiration are not essential to our case for the resurrection.  Instead, the minimal facts approach lets us build common ground with the critic.  Basically we’re saying to the skeptic, “You show me your historical facts and I’ll show you how they are evidence for the historical resurrection of Jesus.”  

So, what are the minimal facts?  Habermas and Licona list five:  

FACT #1:  Jesus died by Roman crucifixion.  
Not only is Jesus’ crucifixion recorded in all four gospels, but non-Christian sources report the event too.  Jewish historian Josephus and the Roman historian Tacitus are just a couple of those sources.  

And remember, virtually all scholars accept this fact.  

FACT #2:  The disciples believed they had seen the risen Jesus.
Scholars recognize two important pieces of evidence for this fact.  First, the disciples claimed to have seen the risen Jesus.  Paul lists the eyewitnesses in I Corinthians 15:3-8:  

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance:  that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

By the way, it’s legit to cite the Bible here.  Even critical scholars believe I Corinthians is an authentic letter written by Paul.  At this point, we’re simply using it as a source of ancient history, not as an inspired book of the Bible.  Thus, we have a reliable list of people who believed they saw resurrection appearances of Jesus.

Second, the disciples really believed they had seen Jesus such that it totally transformed them.  Jesus their leader had been brutally killed before their eyes.  Understandably, they split.  Peter even denies Jesus three times.  But something happened, transforming them from cowards who abandoned Jesus to courageous men who risked life and limb for His message.  They didn’t just claim Jesus rose, they really really believed it.

And remember, virtually all scholars accept this fact.  

FACT #3:  Saul of Tarsus (Paul), an enemy of the church, converted because he believed he had seen the risen Jesus.  
Before his Road-to-Damascus experience, Paul tried to destroy the Christian church.  He beat Christians, imprisoned them, and killed them.  But suddenly, he converts to Christianity.  Why?  Paul and Luke both report it was because he believed the resurrected Jesus had appeared to him.  

And remember, virtually all scholars accept this fact.  

FACT #4:  James, the brother of Jesus and a skeptic, converted because he believed he had seen the risen Jesus.  
The Gospels tell us James was skeptical of Jesus’ ministry (Mark 3:21; John 7:5).  He was unconvinced.  However, James eventually converts and is even martyred for his faith in Jesus.  What transformed this skeptic into a believer?  He believed he saw the risen Jesus.  Remember the eyewitness list in I Corinthians 15?  Verse 7 tells us “[Jesus] appeared to James.”  

And remember, virtually all scholars accept this fact.  

FACT #5:  The tomb of Jesus was empty.
Where was Jesus publicly executed?  In Jerusalem.  Where did the disciples start proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection?  In Jerusalem.  Think about those two facts, together.  How does Christianity get started if Jesus corpse is still in the tomb?  It doesn’t.  Jewish and Roman leaders simply pull out the dead body and game over.  But that didn’t happen.  The disciples preach the resurrection in the very city Jesus is crucified.  That’s only possible if the tomb is empty.

This is the one fact not accepted by “virtually all scholars.”  However, Gary Habermas found that about 75% of scholars buy this one and that’s still a large majority.

There you have it—five historical facts that need an explanation.  

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Reality of the Resurrection -- Part 1

Last Sunday millions of Christians celebrated Easter.  But if the bones of Jesus were found tomorrow, would you walk away from Christianity?  You should. 

Why?  Because faith in a dead Jesus is worthless.  Even the Apostle Paul says so.  In I Corinthians 15:14, he writes, “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”  Did you catch that?  The bones of Jesus would make our faith useless.  

C’mon Paul, isn’t that kind of harsh?  No and here’s why.  Imagine a group of people who have dedicated their lives to Peter Pan.  They construct a beautiful building to gather in celebration of Pan’s life.  They sing songs to him and tell stories about his wonderful deeds.  What would you think about such a group?  What a waste of life.  Peter Pan is a fairytale.  We should feel sorry for such people.

Well, if Jesus did not rise bodily from the grave, then Christianity is a fairytale.  Just like Peter Pan, it’s make believe and Christians are wasting their lives.  And what should people think about us?  Paul concludes that if Christ hasn’t been raised, “we are to be pitied more than all men” (verse 19).  

So, when it comes to the resurrection of Jesus, what’s at stake for Christians?  Everything.

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