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Monday, November 21, 2011

Bothering Prayer - 4 minutes of encouragement for Prayer

If you're like me and struggle to pray, it's good to be reminded that even the writers of the Bible conceived of it as a struggle - but are nevertheless steadfast on carrying on with it.

Below is 4 minutes from Matt Chandler on prayer - including how it's a labor & a bother (but not a bother for you and I). Best 4 minutes on prayer I ever heard...

Thursday, November 10, 2011

George Mueller: How to ascertain the Will of God

This past week I had the privilege of preaching from Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 on the topic of "Listening and Hearing from God." While I reading & prepping I came across a short tract by George Mueller (1805-1898), called "How to ascertain the will of God." Mueller preached at his local church for six decades and built five large houses for orphans in England. I have never read of or run across another human in the last millennia for whom I have more respect in the areas of discerning God's will & specific, bold prayers. I hope you find this brief & straightforward piece of wisdom as instructive as I have:
I seek at the beginning to get my heart into such a state that it has no will of its own in regard to a given matter. Nine-tenths of the trouble with people generally is just here. Nine-tenths of the difficulties are overcome when our hearts are ready to do the Lord's will, whatever it may be. When one is truly in this state, it is usually but a little way to the knowledge of what His will is.   2. Having done this, I do not leave the result to feeling or simple impression. If so, I make myself liable to great delusions.   3. I seek the Will of the Spirit of God through or in connection with the Word of God. The Spirit and the Word must be combined. If I look to the Spirit alone without the Word, I lay myself open to great delusions also. If the Holy Ghost guides me at all, He will do it according to the Scriptures and never contrary to them.   4. Next I take into account providential circumstances. These often plainly indicate God's will in connection with His Word and Spirit.   5. I ask God in prayer to reveal His Will to me aright.   6. Thus, through prayer to God, the study of His Word, and reflection, I come to a deliberate judgment according to the best of my ability and knowledge, and if my mind is thus at peace, and continues so after two or three more petitions, I proceed accordingly. In trivial matters, and in transactions involving the most important issues, I have found this method always effective.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Halloween: Do or Don't?

"Should Christians participate in Halloween?" 

Admittedly, this is a strange image.
Every year I've managed to dodge this question fairly successfully - preferring to respond: "But the real question is: Should Christians participate in Valentine's Day? The origin of love according to Hallmark and the Peanuts card that Ramsey Rives gave me in 3rd grade is a Greek mythological figure who shoots arrows -- not Yahweh. Well, that's heresy right there (see 1 John 4). Okay, I'll wait for that. This is a legitimate and serious question and I've been asked by a host of persons about it this year. Katie and I have actually given it quite a bit of prayerful & biblical consideration over the years so here we go...

A word of grace. Wherever we land on these types of gray-area issues, I always encourage folks from Romans 14:4: “To his own master a servant stands or falls.” In other words, We each will have to give an account to God but we should not demand others give an account to us. But we often do demand, don't we? If not in word, through our attitudes or our judgments toward others about 'other' things (but really, it's all about that thing).  Pressing accountability is not true of every or even most issues. Most issues aren't matters of Christian liberty or gray-areas. Most issues Scripture is pretty clear about. So while we should refrain from being demanding of accountability about drinking in moderation, watching R-rated films, or perhaps (??) certain language we use, the same isn't true for "sleeping with someone" before marriage - some will argue that this is a gray-area issue so they can keep doing who they are doing  but Scripture (not to mention wisdom!) gives us clear instruction with regard to "keeping the marriage bed pure" (Hebrews  13:4). So with this issue of Halloween, some will walk away happy, even smug with what the Oelschlagers have decided to do, while others will be infuriated. Which is why my intent here is not to change a person's mind as to whether they should celebrate it. It ain't gonna happen. My hope is that, by considering the matter from God's Word, we extend further grace to persons on both sides of the issue.

Where I my "Megatron" costume. I do not think it is wrong for Christians, who have a clear conscience in doing so and are not causing a ‘weaker’ brother to stumble, to participate in Halloween. Let me give a few thoughts to support that statement – allowing God’s Word to be our primary guide.

The counter argument. The two major points against Halloween:  (1) That we are celebrating an ancient druidic/Celtic holiday in which spirits of the trees were worshipped and (2)  add to that the continued existence of modern day witchcraft, sorcery, ghoulishness still celebrated today around Halloween (even though isolated & amongst a small minority at least in Cayman's varied cultural landscape). These are both serious matters. We are called to be “in” the world yet not “of it” (John 17). So we are equally called to guard our hearts from evil yet also be a friend to sinners. 

God’s Word. While it doesn’t speak to this issue directly, it does speak to a surprisingly similar issue. Namely meat sacrificed to idols/false gods/demons. 

1 Corinthians 10:19-31:  19 What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything?  20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons.  21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.  22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?  23 "All things are lawful," but not all things are helpful. "All things are lawful," but not all things build up.  24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.  25 Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience.  26 For "the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof."  27 If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience.  28 But if someone says to you, "This has been offered in sacrifice," then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience-  29 I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else's conscience?  30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?  31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

A few notes:
Conscience. If your conscience (see also 1 Corinthians 8) doesn’t allow you to participate & if God has convicted you it’s wrong, don’t do it until/unless God changes your mind. Far worse to do what you believe God has told you is wrong than to do it doubting with every timid step.
     >>> If you can in good conscience, dress up your kids, have them walk around the neighborhood & pilfer candy from the neighbors (but "Take only One" if they aren't home), do it without being burdened. 
     >>> If because of your past, concern for your kids, deep belief/suspicion in dark spiritual forces being harder at work, don't do it even if you acknowledge someone else's freedom to do differently.
Idols & Candy. You might make the parallel of meat with Candy or with costumes. Were either dedicated to the Celtic figure Samhain or any sort evil spirit? Likely not. Could they have been, sure. Was that a Wiccan who just handed me a tootsie roll and cursed it with a spell that will make me prematurely bald? Perhaps. Is it likely? Depends on your culture, where you live, etc. But likely not (I hope someone put Rogaine in my bag just in case).
So verse 28: “BUT if someone says to you, “This party, candy, costume is in honor of Samhain who we believe to be the Celtic Spirit of Halloween,” don’t eat it, put it on, participate. Lest we cause a young Christian or non-Christian to confuse our faith in Christ with hypocrisy. 
Helpful? Then the next logical question comes from v.23: I can understand how the participation in Halloween can be “lawful” or “permissible” (NIV), but how can it actually be "helpful" or "build" someone up??  Great question (see two points below).

Your situation. If our children had a strange unhealthy interest in ghoulish, ghastly, fearful, & all things “dark,” I would certainly abstain. Also, if we weren’t being intentional about exposing our kids on a daily basis to the truth & light of God’s Word & the truth and light of the Rescuer Jesus Christ, then I might also be more hesitant about making much of any holiday lest they put all their hope & attention on a self-indulgent occasion to stuff themselves full of Laffy-Taffy (not to mention the potential of impish evil spirits...although they do act rather impish themselves after a half-bag of High Fructose Corn Syrup and a pint's worth of Red Dye #3) . If we ran into a haunted house or a block party that stressed the perverse, spiritual strangeness, fear-based entertainment, Katie and I would have no problems walking away from it. So I think, practically and with wisdom, you must take into account your own situation as well – being brutally honest about your spiritual state & influences.

Your neighbor’s situation. If you don’t think participating in Halloween poses a spiritual stumbling block for your neighbor (and that’s an important “if"), consider the immense benefit of participating, especially if you are trick-or-treating. There are few opportunities in our culture where people will actually walk up to our door and meet us face to face. There are few opportunities where we can actually walk up and down the streets in our neighborhoods with those who do not know Christ- and they will do this with you willingly and won’t think we are stalking them. Halloween can be a great opportunity to get to know people. I believe you have the opportunity to meet and enjoy some fellowship with the unbelievers God has put around you- and in a setting that they initiate. The ‘dangers’ of Halloween, for our family, do not outweigh these opportunities. Now, of course, being ‘separate’ on these days can be opportunities as well. It might be important to communicate your convictions by turning off the light and not answering the door. I'm sure in some contexts God can and does use this. But Katie and I have decided that we would rather be overtly engaging with those around us on this night with love and wisdom rather than abstain altogether.

The response of someone with a different conviction than me. I get pumped whenever people go to God's Word &, with the help of His Spirit, get it. This past week one of the person's with whom I engaged on this topic had a different personal conviction. She didn't begin to share my conviction about participating in Halloween, but she did look earnestly at God's Word & extended grace. Here are some excerpts from this person's response (which is right on!): 
Halloween is a very sacred day for those who follow Wicca - one of their most "holy" days which is where my struggle to feel ok about it all stems.   I fully realise that people aren't practising Wicca or celebrating anything with evil intent and aren't trying to glorify evil by celebrating Halloween so this is definitely where I get, just because I believe it is wrong doesn't make it wrong and it isn't wrong for somebody else to do it but if I believe it is wrong for me and I do it then it would be wrong.  Is that right?  LOL (YES it is anonymous person!!!!).....

I don't get any holy brownie points for choosing not to celebrate as opposed to another brother or sister in Christ who does but what I do get is that it is ok to feel the way I do about Halloween and at the same time make sure my heart is in check and not get self righteous and maintain a good heart attitude toward others that do.  Correct?  (Yes, and love the "holy brownie points" comment!)
In conclusion: No matter whether you decide to stay at home or participate, 1 Corinthians 10:31 is a good note to end on: 31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

I realize I responded to this question largely from a “family” point-of-view and you might not even have children, but I think trick-or-treating & carving pumpkins (not dance parties, club scenes, etc.) is where this dilemma is most visible. As just being at a club and partying is itself another dilemma over which we ought constantly to be submitting our hearts unto the Lord, examining our conscience, and striving to be ‘in’ the world but not ‘of it’ (ie. In the world, but with a mission). 

To balance out my family's conviction with the equally valid personal conviction that it's not glorifying to God to celebrate Halloween, I provide for you (BELOW) this Halloween evangelism tract, which has no doubt graced the bags of many an unsuspecting child, for your amusement/edification. My favorite part is the clown and the lone ranger praying together to trust Christ. Makes me wonder: Can clowns know Jesus? (subject of my next post).

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Dudes - Part I

This Saturday we're having our first ever churchwide Men's Breakfast. So I'm making it a goal this week to post a few thoughts each day regarding issues and biblical insight surrounding being a dude and exercising one's dude-ishness. Of course, it's already Wednesday and there's a good chance this will be my last post...oh well.

I was talking today with a member of our congregation who is also on the police force. We talked about the absence of husbands and fathers in Cayman. I wondered out loud:
Isn't it strange that most women fear yielding leadership to men and most men fear taking it on (and are more than happy to give it up).
As a husband and then, by association, a father the admonition is clear about the form that leadership is to take and why it's so scary:
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25).
Be honest guys: Was the scary part just then the vague spiritual responsibility or realizing Jesus while he lived in real flesh & in real time did everything to the point of death for the sake of the church (and then applying that to our marriages)?

John Benton calls men to be self-sacrificial initiative-takers in his helpful little book Gender Questions (and, No, as at least one of you has asked before the book is not for those questioning which gender they are...there are shorter & simpler illustrated books for that):
The word initiative could be linked to the word leadership. But I am unhappy about that word in some respects because it has become so debased by modern ideas of managers who 'sit up there and make decisions' and have nothing to do with what is happening 'on the ground'...Biblical leadership is more to do with the idea of a pioneer -- a person who says, "I go first, to take the risks, to make the way safe for others, to take the knocks."
Men, I suggest if we would make every effort, by the grace of God and clinging to Christ as both our help & our example, to be this type of leader, the women in our lives might be a little less afraid of yielding leadership and considerably more grateful that we are living out who we said we'd be when we uttered those wedding vows.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Call to Courageous Manhood - $2 through Oct 15

I'm excited that the first weekend of Dec (Dec 2-3) Sunrise Community Church will be hosting a Marriage Conference from FamilyLife Ministries called "The Art of Marriage."

In preparation for this, I came across this wonderful resource from author & relationship guru, Dennis Rainey. It's called Stepping Up: The Call to Courageous Manhood. 

In this book, Rainey examines the five stages of every man's life and the God-given opportunity as well as responsibility of each stage. I read the first few chapters already and it is outstanding. If you know a man & especially if this man owns a Kindle, iPad, or reads eBooks - consider getting him this book (a cheap Birthday present??) or send him the link to this post. See the trailer below for a better idea of what to expect.

Best part: The eBook version is only $2 through Oct 15. Here's the LINK.

If you don't have an iPad or Kindle, here are links to some free eBook software to read the book on your laptop. Microsoft Reader and also Stanza Desktop for Mac

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Responding to those who knock at our door (Jehovah's Witnesses)

Perhaps you catch them walking up to your flat or up the long walkway to your front door. Admit it: Have you ever hid in your bathroom? Pretended to be on the phone? Called your spouse? Acted like you were heading to a world-defining meeting? 

Even as a pastor (called to answer the door at any hour??), I have done at least one of the above. Which one, I'll never tell...

Here in Cayman, usually around this time of year and again in the Spring is open season for Jehovah's Witnesses to come 'round & lovingly pound at your door. Usually very kind, eager to start a conversation, and unwaveringly convinced of their views about something absolutely foundational to our faith as Christians: The deity of Jesus Christ.

What they are saying. Jehovah's Witnesses are convinced that there is one God -- and Jesus Christ is not Him. One of the first evidences out of their mouth: "Even the Bible (yes, your Bible) says that Jesus Christ was a created being." 

They center this around verses like Colossians 1:15: "He [Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation." On the surface, this may throw us for a loop -- at the very least, stopping the conversation and, at the very most, planting seeds of doubt in our own minds. 

Though you may prefer to just walk away or just say, "Ah well, they'll never change their minds," remember that the true gospel is inherently powerful (Romans 1:16) and many Jehovah's Witnesses are bringing along new (and perhaps still 'open') converts for observation. So perhaps it's worth a little time, effort, and brainpower...

How we might respond. The following is a good blog post that will help us address the claim by Jehovah's Witnesses that the Bible says Jesus Christ is not God but a created being like you and I.

The Deity of Christ - Part III   (See his other posts on topic as well)

Before you actually respond. Having said this, I would exhort each of us to recall that the power of the gospel is best demonstrated through loving our neighbor as Christ has so loved us - even in the midst of discussion/debate. I remember once talking to a brother who was a renown apologist for a pro-life stance toward unborn children. His job, at which he was quite accomplished, was engaging in dozens of public forums each year against the the best & brightest pro-choice philosophers & scientists. I asked him, "How often do you feel like you 'lose' debates?" He replied: Some of the debates that on the surface I seemed to win - made the most salient arguments and stumped the opposition - I had in fact lost."  He went on to quote 1 Peter 3:15 with an emphasis on the last part of the verse:
"But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give you the reason for the hope that you have, but do so with gentleness and respect." 
An approach I've found helpful is offering to listen for 20-30 minutes and then (either at that or inviting them to return again) ask if they'd be willing to listen to your thoughts & concerns for 20-30 minutes. I did this with some Mormon folks once and we struck up quite a relationship - two of the dudes even asked for some of 'my' literature.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Great Quote on Prayer from Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

"There is nothing that tells the truth about us as Christian people so much as our prayer life. Everything we do in the Christian life is easier than prayer." -Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones

Now let it soak.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Making Fun of Journaling

I owe this to my congregation. During the month of August preaching on Psalm 27, I've had occasion (x2) to expound on the importance of recording God's provision for our lives & to have something available upon which to take notes or write down a Scripture Reference.

In other words: GET A JOURNAL!   (or if you're a man whose embarrassed to say he journals you can call it a "moleskin" -- see Mark Driscoll).

And while I still support this, I probably need to make fun it (lest I it too seriously & it becomes an idol). So just as I was laughing with someone about journaling, I browse the interwebs to find Jon Acuff already did a pretty good job this morning of doing just that. Enjoy a laugh Christians and read: 

"Secretly Hating to Journal"

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Eating Daily Bread...Daily

Is that a Bible made out of bread?!
You know it, your spouse/flatmate/good friend knows it, your college roomie figures it's still true though they haven't seen you in years. So I won't be another person who beats that barely breathing horse: It would help to be reading your Bible daily. Let's get past that factoid. You open Genesis and begin. You're doing it! Then somewhere either when you grow noxious at the Bible's version of "Temptation Island" in Genesis 19 (but far more twisted), when you encounter the detailed architectural plans of God's temporary beach/desert house (5 straight chapters, which means 5 days of power-napping), or, one word, LEVITICUS, you give up. Okay, a new season is starting: What are you gonna do about it this time? (resist saying: "Read my favorite Psalms." Everyone is comforted by ice cream, but people don't grow from eating a steady diet of Cherry Garcia...just ask my kids).

Might I suggest 3 simple things (including 2 resources) to help get you back on your feet:

(1) Simple attitude adjustment. "Man cannot live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD" (Deuteronomy 8:3). Every day we need bread for strength (or, if gluten-free, Rice Bread). Every day we need God's Word for strength to live for Jesus. Might I suggest that we take this one step further: That our Father is so intimately involved in our lives that whatever you read next in God's Word on a given morning (or evening), that is exactly the food you need. I have found this to, by and large, be true even if I don't realize it when I'm reading it. But each morning I make a conscious effort to wonder aloud: Lord, I wonder what you have cooked up for me today. This allows me to receive what He has to say much more readily. James 1:20 says this: "Get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you." Each day God is planting His Word in your heart to deliver you, to strengthen you, to help you further depend on Him: Will you and I humbly accept what He's putting on our plate?

2) Staying in God's Word Daily requires Accountability. This can be accountability with others or just accountability before God. Bottom line: If you don't have a plan, it's ain't gonna happen. Here's a resource that I've found helpful in making, storing, & sticking to a plan:  Here you can Choose: (1) The Books of the Bible you wish to read (eg., John, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John); (2) The duration of time in which you wish to read them (eg., 2 weeks, 1 month, 3 months); (3) Store your plan online and/or print it out; (4) Read Your Daily Scripture Passage(s) in different formats: It can be sent to your Email Inbox each morning, sent as an RSS feed, it can even be sent in audio format. Stay accountably by making a plan & sticking to it.

3) Staying in God's Word Daily requires Interaction. At least I find it to be significantly helpful as interaction stimulates the mind and keeps us from distraction. Write down something about what you read that day. Could be a promise from the Scriptures, a sin you were convicted of and for which are receiving Christ's forgiveness, a prayer you felt led to pray in response to the reading. You could just write down one verse. For years, I kept notebooks full of a very, very simple & free online study. Starts with a "peak your interest" type of question, moves into questions for Study, 1 or 2 application questions and a final prayer. Did I mention it's free? And it covers any book of Scripture. IV Press Online Bible Studies. After you click on the link, in the URL after the final backslash (/) type in the book of the Bible you wish to study. (Ex: Be flexible and try a couple times -- for Philippians, type in phil; for Leviticus, type in lev; for 1 Corinthians, type in 1cor.

May God strengthen and grow you with the food he puts on your plate.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Summer Reading & Summer Pics

I don't know about you, but Summer Reading used to immediately bring to mind: "Come on, do I really have to read Where the Red Fern Grows?!" (Incidentally, I think my best summer reading experience was the Summer I read Hatchet  - 13 y. old survives a plane crash and survives for 45 days in the wilderness using only a hatchet - he was the original Bear Grylls). Anywho, nowadays the summer reading experience is something I look forward to. So I thought I'd sally forth what I read this summer along with description - feel free to post back with any gems from your list.

#1 - Jack: A Life of C.S. Lewis by George Sayer. 464 pages. I've read so much of Lewis but have never read a full-length biography of his. Sayer knew Lewis well. Things I learned about Lewis - He was one lusty bloke before he put his faith in Christ. Sayers goes into this in some detail. Honestly, had Lewis been in his 20s while living in our era, he'd most likely be attracted to some hard core stuff on the web (if you know what I mean). He was so attracted to beauty, especially the beauty of a woman, that he greatly indulged in it vis-a-vis his thought life. When J.R.R. Tolkien explained Christ as the reality behind the beauty (or "myth"), Lewis found his heart's true home. But it was his penchant for passions and the constant struggle to focus on Christ as the object of His passions and pleasure with which I could most relate to Lewis. He struggled with co-dependency, was an incredibly faithful friend, and tirelessly, but quietly, cared for those in need. And, if you've ever watched the movie Shadowlands (Anthony Hopkins) which chronicles the end of Lewis' life dealing with the death of his wife, the book provides a more accurate and detailed handling of that time period (In the movie, Lewis is nebulously portrayed as having given up his faith, whereas in real-life, his struggle was more like that of the Psalmists - moving from despair toward hope and thanksgiving).

#2 - A Proverbs-Driven Life by Anthony Selvaggio. 201 pages. I read Proverbs in conjunction with 1 Corinthians over the Summer (the theme of wisdom being paramount in both). Thus, this book was a handy guide. Great chapters on friendship, making wise choice of a spouse, marital faithfulness, and childrearing. 

#3 - Autobiography of George Mueller, or a Million and a Half in Answer to Prayer. George Mueller is known for setting up scores of Orphanages throughout England in the early to mid 1800s. But what's truly remarkable about this man is his prayer life. I kept writing in the margins: "Didn't leave God alone" "Didn't leave God alone" (x20). And as a result, God did not leave George Mueller alone. If you want to be inspired in your prayer life with both a lofty and authentic example, try this on for size. You can also read a shorter version which has compiled "highlights" of his autobiography - it's called Answers to Prayer. And, yeah, he had a neck beard...and pulled it off!

#4 - The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson.272 pages. I don't just read stuff from the Family Christian Book Stores (besides, those places are kind of a rip-off, unless you like "Testa-mints"). I love to read about what makes people tick - why people do/think/feel as they do. Does your boss (or pastor??) demonstrate: Glibness/superficial charm, Grandiose sense of self-worth, Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom. These are the first three items on the Psychopath Test developed by Bob Hare and utilized around the world to help identify psychopaths and sociopaths. Jon Ronson, a journalist who also wrote The Men who Stare at Goats, is hilarious as he attempts to hunt down and speak with psychopaths, tries to figure out what's legit in the madness industry, attempts to ascertain if he's a psychopath, and discovers that CEOs of the Fortune 500 companies are far more likely to be psychopaths than your average Joe or Josephine.

Okay enough of that, I promised the peeps of Sunrise Community Church some pictures from our Oelschlager Summer Adventures (Grandiose sense of self-worth??):

Ziplining with Katie's side of family (Yes, all those people are related)
Mason's first time surfing.
Katie tubing on North Carolina's Dan River. Gage overwhelmed by life preserver.
River-tubing in the U.S. South has quite a clientele let me tell you.
Boogie-board Racing with my Dad
(he had a head start..I eventually won...should I really be writing about this?)
At one point, there were 10 children in this inflatable pool which was tenuously held up by duct tape
as the children continuously (and joyously?) walked in a synchronized circle.
U.S. Independence Day Celebration (4th of July).
We never really seemed to ride the bikes - just walked them along in a hot, slow death march.
Yes, I'm related to a (young) Uncle Sam


Thursday, June 30, 2011

CayHistory: Cayman Gets Religion

Rev. James Elmslie
For my readers who hail from Grand Cayman, it might be hard to imagine a time in which this island was devoid of Jesus. You see churches everywhere. On a back road recently, I saw someone had turned their old outhouse into a church (unless they were playing a cruel joke on any passerby looking for spiritual sanctuary). But this island was devoid of Christianity - in fact, its first successful missionary commented that not only was the majority of the population nonChristian but they specifically chose religious occasions to flagrantly indulge in excessive passions and pleasures. As I continue to read Michael Craton's lengthy history of Cayman Founded Upon the Seas, I found out some things about this missionary that I'd like to pass on to you. After all, we owe him a debt of gratitude for his introduction of the gospel to Cayman.

Elmslie Memorial United Church
Cayman's first long-term missionary. His name is Rev. James Elmslie. If the name sounds familiar, it's because you frequently pass by the seaside, downtown United/Presbyterian church that bears his name (or at least use its parking lot to make I did yesterday). Like Elmslie, the church used to be Presbyterian but has since become a mixture of two varying denominations -- but we'll steer clear of that potential land mine.

The Seeds of God's Work. In January of 1845, a Presbyterian minister arrived in Cayman via shipwreck. But what seemed misfortune was certainly Providence as the Lord was to start moving on this island. During Hope Masterton Waddell's brief stay, he was impressed "by the people's essential goodness and hunger for organised religion." When he returned to Scotland, he urged lobbied the Scottish Missionary Society to start a Mission in Cayman, but to no avail. 

But Waddell did influence a second missionary to at least visit -- Rev. William Niven. One day Niven found two local men paddling out to sell turtle on the Sabbath -- but they told him honestly and frankly that they would've been in church had their been a minister. That set Niven ablaze with excitement. His Presbyterian Missionary board gave him authorization to recruit a missionary from Jamaica. In July 1846, Niven made a impassioned plea for a Caymanian Mission before the Jamaican Presbytery at Montego Bay. But at first there were no takers. At the end of his speech, Niven quoted the the Lord from Prophet Isaiah: "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" (Isaiah 6:8). After what was by all accounts a dramatic pause, the Rev. James Elmslie, pastor of Green Island, Hanover, responded to the call.

God's man. Elmslie was in many ways a surprising choice. He was already fifty years old and well-established at Green Island. Under his care, the church at Green Island grew from a scant few to around 900 persons. 

Upon arriving, Elmslie was met with immediate adversity. One of the worst hurricanes in living memory ripped through the Western Caribbean just as he was arriving. Then, many of the people made their intentions clear telling Elmslie and the few who came to assist him: "We don't not want any black coats" (and he couldn't just change into any coat from the L.L. Bean catalogue...the Presbyterians kept their coats their coffee). Nothing much happened for the first year.

An enemy becomes a friend & the gospel spreads. One of the most vehement opponents to Elmslie and his message was the Custos (the top dog in the island's government). James Coe Jr., perhaps plagued by a guilty conscience, thought the Elmslie's "hellfire" sermons were aimed  directly at himself. He once had to be restrained by his fellow Magistrates from angrily confronting Elmslie after a service. After one service Elmslie writes that Coe shouted at him, "What new doctrine is this which we are getting now? Nothing but sin, sin at all times."

But perhaps it was all that talk of sin that made Coe examine to what extent it was in his own heart &, thus, his need for a Rescuer in Christ. No one seems to know. But what is certain is that the Holy Spirit worked on this stubborn, willful leader to help him trust Christ. By the wharf one day, Coe confronted Elmslie and said to him: "I can see now why you have preached the way you have done. If you had not done so, you would not have been faithful. We thought we were all well...but I am afraid we are all lost. You have kindled a light in this island that will not be extinguished when you are mouldering in the dust." Shortly thereafter Coe became a formal member of Elmlie's church and later an elder. By all accounts, he loved and faithfully served Jesus till the day he died. Amazing! The grace of God can change even the stoniest of hearts!

This fueled a fire in Elmslie, who, though an older man, began traveling by foot, on horse, by canoe sharing the good news of the gospel throughout Grand Cayman. And many responded - to the praise and glory of God.

He's now a witness to our endurance. The author of Hebrews tells us: "Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also throw aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us" (Hebrews 12:1). This man was inching toward his 60's as he went to and fro throughout Cayman, preaching, encouraging, caring with the hope of Christ. He did so by foot, horse, and canoe. Can you imagine a near 60-year old man today pulling up onshore on the East End donning a black suit? Unreal. Yet now he looks on as one of many amongst the cloud of witnesses that has gone before us. I hope he sees a people who are willing to endure similar hardship, persecution, even seeming foolishness to advance the work of the gospel that he began. We thank You, Father, for Rev. James Elmslie and his faithful witness on this Island. 

(I'm on holiday for about a likely will leave the blog-o-sphere till August. Grace & Peace!) 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Free Audiobook for June: A Place of Healing by Joni Eareckson Tada's free audiobook for June is A Place of Healing by Joni Eareckson Tada. (CLICK HERE TO ACCESS)

For anyone who struggles with pain or finds themselves in position to sympathize and minister hope to those who do, this book is well-recommended. In fact, it's really beneficial for anyone. Plus, her witty, sardonic style should keep the reader laughing at themselves as the listening-time moves swiftly by. 

In her own current struggle with pain, Joni chronicles her own views on suffering, divine healing, God's purposes, and finding joy in Christ and his gospel of grace. If you're looking for a theological treatise on suffering, look elsewhere. This is an account of a woman who has grappled with God's truth and has matured while applying them to her own struggles. 

Over forty years ago, a diving accident left Joni a quadriplegic. Having adapted to her plight, a new bout of suffering has been thrown her way: Unrelenting pain. This remarkable testimony displays a woman who seeks and savors Christ not in spite of her pain but, in many ways, because of it.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Hindering people because of my Annoyance

I can relate.
Upon the disciples shoo'ing away children whom they considered were pestering Jesus, Luke tells us the following:

But Jesus called them to him, saying, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them" (Luke 18:16).

As I read this verse I began to think of children approaching Jesus or any relatively benevolent authority figure, for that matter, with their problems. Children don't come with the biggest problems but they come with real problems. And, to them, such are the ones that really matter most.

A childish example. Thursday Night is typically the one night a week I don't eat dinner with my family. Last night I walked in to my youngest son, Gage, attempting to surprise me (which typically involves wearing a batman costume, eyes encased by those experimental goggles you're forced to wear for 11th grade Chemistry class, and a purple feather boa loosely affixed). He did nothing but plead his case over a dilemma: "Daddy, you're not putting us to bed, are you?" I typically put our children to bed every night (shower, brush teeth, etc.) and we have a good time. But they frankly take advantage of their mother when she performs the nightcap as it takes 3x as long and often turns into Cirque de Soleil on the bunk beds. So...yeah, they prefer that. So I assured Gage that, yes, Mommy was putting them to bed. But my mere presence on the scene, just minutes before bedtime, still disconcerted him: "Daddy, you're not supposed to put us to bed tonight." Seriously, even though I agreed with his statement, it took 8-10 times to convince him of this minor dilemma. But, for him, this problem was an obstacle to life itself.

The Annoyance. Are you like me: Ever just get worn down by others' seemingly minute problems and complaints? The couple that really shouldn't be together -- the woman knows it, the guy has latched onto her -- but she keeps lapsing back into the relationship and asks for prayer for setting up boundaries ("I don't want to not be around him. But needs to be limited."). Someone who asks God (and you) to pray they'd get more time to spend time with God or more time for church, yet has packed their schedule with stuff that entertains them. Or what about the couple who asks for prayer for more time together yet are never willing to leave their kids alone (you know, with like a babysitter). Okay, that's probably can sense my annoyance plenty.

The conviction.  (I speak the following not really as a pastor but as a Christian and brother-in-Christ). But if and when I convey half-hearted interest, if and when my prayers begin to wane for that person, and if and when I fail to hold out the same vibrant hope in the gospel of grace as I would to a seeking non-Christian, am I not hindering children from God's throne?  Avoiding such people in possible moments of encouragement or avoiding them by leaving off their names and concerns before the throne of God, seems to highlight a heart that's...well...okay with hindering -- because while such problems may not be the most important, to the person affected, they are very real. 

After all, my problems may be trite and annoying to someone else, but I hope they bring them before "the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Hebrews 4:16).

Monday, May 30, 2011

Ghandi: Another reason to hope for a better righteousness

In my experience, no figure of recent history has been as frequently compared with and inserted into the same sentence as Jesus than Mohandas Ghandi. I know I for one have quoted Ghandi. Recently utilizing a quote of his to say, "Hey, even Ghandi (you know, respected-by-every-religion, Ghandi) believed in the concept of the need to be born again" (Ghandi once said: "Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next day, when I wake up, I am re-born").  There is no doubt that the Mahatma was a preeminent political and ideological leader in India's achieving independence from Great Britain. And his life-philosophy of nonviolent resistance inspired many followers and admirers, including Martin Luther King, Jr. 

However, the Wall Street Journal published a recent review of a book written by a respected journalist about Ghandi -- the review questions not only Ghandi's demigod status, but also his relative 'sainthood' in popular thought. I'm going to post a short list of bullet points summarizing the article below if your interested.

And while some of the points listed below re: Ghandi's life surprised me (and, in some cases, disgusted me), I'm honestly don't write this in order to start a "Ghandi-bashing" session. Only that, in examining the less glorious details of his life, I'm reminded that Ghandi stands as one of many in a long line: 

Another reason to hope for a better righteousness. 

His life is worth examining, worth considering. But like all lives of our heroes, the glimmer of righteousness exemplified in their lives leaves us thirsting for a full-blown, "won't let us down" righteousness that we can put our faith & hope in.

Veiled Grace, Flawed Righteousness. In fact, this basic truth helps us understand the Old Testament better and how it all points Jesus. The Old Testament, from Genesis 3 to Malachi (good book), displays two major threads: Veiled Grace and Flawed Righteousness. The grace of God: but the kind of grace that comes and goes, through covenants that can't permanently change hearts, and generally God working in a way that was often in the shadows. I could write more on that, but I'd like to focus on the people we see in the Old Testament.

There are so many heroes of the Old Testament who are examples of Flawed Righteousness , including the sacred triumvirate -- the three most widely respected and admired OT figures by your average Jewish person. Abraham, Moses, and David. Great men of great faith, but deeply flawed. Abraham's rap sheet includes two potentially life-altering lies to his wife and commits adultery with a woman who is not his wife. Moses kills a man. David had a man killed in order to sleep with his wife and doesn't really admit to doing anything wrong for at least nine months. So, yeah, Abraham, Moses, and David would've been fired from your church. 

How to benefit from lives of flawed righteousness. When observing lives of flawed righteousness (and I mean that in an admiring manner) whether in your everyday life, in recent history (see Ghandi), or in the Old Testament, ask yourself: 

  • Where do I see God's righteousness displayed, though flawed? 
  • What righteous aspect of this person's life do I see fully fulfilled and gloriously magnified in Jesus Christ?
In doing this, we can continue to read biographies, listen to stories, and watch uplifting accounts of real lives while letting such accounts deepen our thirst for a fuller righteousness and ultimately point us (and others) to Him who is and can freely give perfect righteousness: 

17 If, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, 
much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift 
of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.  18 Therefore, 
as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness 
leads to justification and life for all men.  19 For as by the one man's 
disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience 
the many will be made righteous (Romans 5: 17-19).


(If Interested) Bullet Points re: The Flaws in the righteousness of Ghandi.

- Although credited with leading India to independence from Britain, Gandhi also jeopardized this effort. Between 1900 and 1922, he suspended his civil disobedience at least three times, even though more than 15,000 supporters were in jail for the cause. (When Britain finally did withdraw from India, it was largely motivated by their anti-imperialist Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, and the fact that Britain was nearly bankrupt from the war.)

- Gandhi was dangerously unwise politically. He advised the Jews to adopt nonviolence toward the Nazis, and wrote a letter to Hitler starting with the words “My friend”. He also advised the Jews of Palestine to “rely on the goodwill of the Arabs”. Fortunately for their existence, the Jews ignored him.

  • - As well as calling Hitler his friend, Gandhi and Mussolini got on well when they met in December 1931. Gandhi praised Mussolini’s “service to the poor, his opposition to super-urbanization, his efforts to bring about a coordination between Capital and Labour, his passionate love for his people.”

  • - Gandhi was demonstrated moments of racism, describing “the raw Kaffir” as someone “whose occupation is hunting and whose sole ambition is to collect a number of cattle to buy a wife, and then pass his life in indolence and nakedness,” and saying of white Afrikaaners, “We believe as much in the purity of races as we think they do.”

  • - Like all of us, Ghandi could be remarkably hypocritical. He prevented his son marrying a Muslim despite publicly promoting Muslim-Hindu unity. He denounced lawyers, railways and parliamentary politics, yet he was a professional lawyer who constantly used railways to get to meetings to argue that India ­deserved its own parliament. And although he is known for his hunger strikes, his official position was that these were “the worst form of coercion, which militates against the fundamental principles of non-violence” (in which he believed).

  • - His views on nakedness and sexual chastity were especially emblematic of his depravity: when he was in his 70s he encouraged his 17-year-old great-niece, Manu, to be naked during her “nightly cuddles” with him. After sacking several long-standing and loyal members of his 100-strong ­personal entourage who might disapprove of this part of his ‘spiritual quest’, he began sleeping naked with Manu and other young women also.

  • - Despite being considered a peaceful man, he could be callous, even vicious. “There will be no tears but only joy if tomorrow I get the news that all three of you were killed,” he once told some of his workers. To a Hindu he once said, “I do not mind if each and every one of the 500 families in your area is done to death.” And he forced Manu, his niece (remember the “nightly cuddles”), to walk through a jungle known for harboring rapists—just so she could retrieve a pumice stone he liked to use on his feet. When she returned in tears, he “cackled” with laughter and said: “If some ruffian had carried you off and you had met your death courageously, my heart would have danced with joy.”