My First Baptism

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Photo Credit: Jewels654 via CC

Actually, it was Zack’s first baptism. And I did the honors. For the first time.

For the last 4 months, a small crew of like-minded Christian fellas have been meeting at my house. It’s a typical church small group. Or community group. Or life group. Or whatever your church may call it. There are five members – Ross, Zack, John, Shane, and me. And each of us began attending the group for various, but similar reasons.

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Extreme Hospitality (The Third Thing I Learned in Egypt about being a Christian)

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 Image courtesy of Johnny Wilson at CC

 

I attend and work at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, and part of the church’s mission is to exhibit extreme hospitality. The church does it well. In fact, it was this genuine hospitality that brought my wife and me to the church in the first place and part of why we chose to stay.

But as welcoming as our church is, I’ve never encountered hospitality like I did in Egypt last month. I was there to help my friend explore new mission opportunities, and from the moment our hosts met us at the airport until they dropped us off again, we were treated like royalty.

The practice of extreme hospitality was the third lesson I learned from Kasr al Dobara Evangelical Church (KDEC) about being a Christian. Continue reading

We’re Not Very Good at Being the Church (The Second Thing I Learned in Egypt about Being a Christian)

Last week I posted the first lesson I learned about being a Christian while I was in Egypt. Believe it or not, it was this: Political Unrest is Good for the Church. (click here to read what I mean)  The second lesson I recently learned in Egypt about being a Christian is…

Lesson #2 – We’re not very good about being the Church

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Photo by Benjamin Staudinger at CC

 It might seem a bit rude to say we, American Christians, are not very good at being the Church. But in some ways, it’s true – and I would much rather say (and hear) what is true than what sounds good.

In one of my classes last quarter I spent a lot of time reading, learning, and thinking about the differences between a missional church and an attractional church (I wrote a post about this for Trochia.org – read it here!), but while in Egypt this past month, I actually experienced the difference. Continue reading

Political Unrest is Good for the Church (What Egypt Taught Me about being a Christian)

I was recently in the Middle East for a vacation in Iraq.

Kidding. I was indeed in the Middle East, but it wasn’t Iraq, and nobody goes to the Middle East for vacation these days.

The truth is two weeks ago I traveled to Egypt with a friend who has been involved in mission work there since 2007. We served the poor in tiny, poverty-stricken villages in the Egyptian desert, and we discussed partnership opportunities with church leaders and in Cairo.

Like my first trip there years ago, it was an eye-opening and soul-convicting trip. Over the next few blog posts, I will share what I learned from that inspiring church in Egypt. What they taught me about the Christian life (without ever trying to) impacted my heart as much as the sights and sounds of a revolution-torn country impacted my senses. My hope is their lessons will stick with you as much as they have stuck with me.

Lesson #1 – Political Unrest is Good for the Church 

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photo credit: SierraGoddess at CC

The first thing I learned from the church we visited in Egypt is that political unrest is good for the church. Continue reading

My Nine Year Old Mentor

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Brad, the 50 year old leader of our group looked me in the eye and sternly said, “If I tell you to get on the bus, get on the bus.”

Ten minutes later his voice rose above the noise as he said, “Get all the Americans inside right now.” And the somewhat agitated crowd of locals were told to leave.

His instructions brought an end to the conversation a few travel-mates and I were trying to have outside. Our incomplete Arabic and the villager’s broken English made our exchanges difficult, and I’m certain they were offended by our refusal to follow them home for tea, but my desire to retreat to safety trumped my desire to honor their hospitality.

We were ushered inside the tiny ramshackle church turned makeshift vision and dental clinic as Brad repeated his command – “All Americans inside. Now.”

I was starting to get nervous. Continue reading

The House that Obedience Built

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Photo Credit: tpsdave at CC

If you look at the road ahead, what do you see? When projects snapshots about life in the next five or ten or twenty years, what do they look like?

Let me tell you about a few of the signposts I picture in my future. I see happy and healthy years with my wife, quiet and beautiful children sleeping soundly within the comfort of a new home, and a fulfilling career as a writer and a pastor who helps others know Jesus better.

What are the important mile markers in your journey ahead? Take a few moments to imagine them.

Now, what’s missing? What is conveniently absent from your life in the years to come?

Joy? Nope – it’s there. Peace? It’s there too. Health? Success? Safety and security? They are all there. If you look close, you’ll see them around every corner enveloping every significant moment.

What is missing are the storms. The scenes we all omit from the movie trailer of our future are the stormy ones. But our omission of them now does not mean we will bypass them later.

As one of my pastors, Bryan Eckelman, thoughtfully pointed out in a recent sermon, no matter who you are or what kind of life you live, storms will come. For some of us, the storm is already here, banging on the door like an angry criminal hell bent on snatching the last bit of happiness we hold.

So the question is not Will the storms come? The question is How do we survive when they do?

Jesus of Nazareth told a powerful story about life and storms. In Matthew 7:24-29 he makes pointed comments about the lives of a wise homebuilder and a foolish one. The wise one builds his house on the rock, the foolish builds on the sand. You may remember this story. If not, it doesn’t take an English major to decipher the imagery Jesus employs. The rock is a solid foundation and the sand is not. When the storms come, the wise man’s foundation proves solid. The foolish man is not so fortunate.

But despite the details about the builder’s differences, Jesus’ story has one constant: the storm.

Unfortunately, our response to this reality is not to take Jesus’ advice in the face of the inevitable. Instead, we all work very hard to avoid the unavoidable.

We build stronger buildings, drive safer cars, and move from the inner city to gated communities. We take preventive medicine and stock pile retirement funds. We scrub our hands with anti-bacterial wipes after touching a doorknob and before getting behind the wheel of a grocery cart.

We’re so addicted to the idea of storm-free life that we have tried to inoculate ourselves with pure delusion.

But face it brother and sister, the storm’s a comin’. We may not know when or what kind, but she’s a comin’. So I repeat the question: how do we survive when they do?

Jesus’ answer is clear: “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house solid rock….But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand.” (Matt 7:24, 27)

Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it.

This is not a statement about intellect. Our recognition of Jesus and knowledge of Scripture are not the things that makes us buoyant in a rising flood.

“You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this.” (James 2:19)

Rather, Jesus says, the foundation to a life that withstands the storm is obedience.

For my life, and for most of our churches, I worry not about our belief that Jesus was a special guy. I’ve got that one down pat. You probably do too.

What I worry about is that my life will suffer far more damage from unstoppable squalls because I willingly choose not to make peace, give to the needy, keep my word, love my enemies, pray real prayers, or stop objectifying women and judging men.

Hear me here: I’m not worried that God’s unrivalled love and grace in Jesus Christ will make me right before God. I’m worried my failure to act in response to that love will add one more shack to the shanty town of the disobedient, and when the storm comes, I’ll be blown away like the rest of them.

So I turn again to John 16:33 and read Jesus’ words to his disciples as they faced a giant storm: “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth, you will have trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

And I remember that God moved through the disciple’s obedience, not simply their belief. By him they weathered a kind of storm few of us have ever faced, and because of it we are here today with an opportunity to build our house on the same Rock they did.

Are you one who listens and obeys? And how’s your house holding up?