First Anniversary Of My Open Heart Surgery. Let’s Celebrate

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Image result for Celebrate images public domainSpeaking of it being June, it was one year ago today, that I received triple bypass surgery. Between January 2107 and June 4, 2018, I had a heart attack and 4 strokes. The last stroke was during my heart surgery. That’s pretty scary. The only after effects of all those attacks on my body, are scars on my chest and legs, loss of vision in half of my left eye, and trouble remembering names and names of places. My speech is not slurred. My long term and short term memory are good. I’m not as quick remembering things. I used to be really good at quizzes and memory games. I could think of things quickly. I’m not as quick as I used to be. It’s kind of like the way you lose a step in football or tennis when you get older. But this is with my mind. I can still recall things, it just might take me a minute to process the question. But all things considered, I’ll take it. The heart specialist told me that it’s not uncommon for a patient to die if they have a stroke during heart surgery. Ok, I’ll take a bit of blindness and a slower recall of historical information. And, with the names, it’s not like I don’t recognize people. It’s just embarrassing, when I’ve known someone for years and suddenly their name is gone. Still, what’s a little embarrassment in the great scheme of things.

For a year and a half, I was so sick. I tell people all the time, that it’s like I was asleep. I have very few memories of what happened during my sick time. I remember being a lot of trouble for my wife, if we went places to sight see, or shop. I was always having to stop and rest, and often spraying my heart meds. Poor lass, couldn’t have had much fun.

We live two or three blocks from the Church of Christ, where I’m the minister, and I couldn’t even walk it without stopping to rest. I remember that Sundays took a lot out of me. Preaching in the morning and at night was almost more than I could do. I had to start taking Mondays off, because I couldn’t get out of bed.

But now, a year on, I feel great. I still need to do some work to get seriously fit. I need to lose some more weight, but I’m losing it. Last week, I walked down to Buckpool harbor and back with my grandchildren. There were no problems. I’ve walked up and down all the stairs over at Brodie Castle. And, I’m awake. I feel like I was asleep, and I’m awake. So today, I’m celebrating. Life is not to be taken for granted. We live in a beautiful world. Especially up here in Moray. From the Sea to the Mountains, and every mile in between. We are surrounded by some amazing views of nature. And let’s not forget all the wonderful people we meet. Life really is a blessing.

But what about after. What would have happened to me, if my stroke during surgery had been fatal. Sure there would have been a sense of shock for some of my friends, and all the folk at church. Probably my wife would have been pretty upset at me. And I hope, a little sad. But what about me?

I am 100% confident of what would have happened to me. I would have awakened with no pain, in a place even more beautiful than Moray. I would never know a moment of sadness or illness, or pain ever again. Not because we all go to a better place, but because Jesus promised a forever of joy for ever single person who would put their Faith in Him. He is the creator of the world we live in. He died on a cross because we sinned, and he didn’t want to be separated from us. And he rose again, to conquer death. Not just once, in his case. But for all of us. And I made the choice many years ago, to give my life into his care. For that reason I know what will happen to me when I die. I know I’m not perfect. I’m not even close. Just ask my wife. But I am forgiven. Like the apostle Paul, For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

And what about you? On this anniversary of my surgery I have to ask. There is a funeral going on right now in Buckie. I saw the cars. There have been quite a few recently. Yikes. What if one of them next week is yours? What if your family and friends dress all in black and weep at losing you. What happens to you? Have you made preparations? Do you have a will? Do you KNOW beyond a shadow of a doubt what your future will be? You can. Seriously. I’m not joking. You can hand the keys over to Jesus right now. You can say, Jesus, I need you. I surrender. You drive from now on. And I can tell you, from experience, that new life with and from Jesus is even better that waking up after surgery. I’m glad I’m alive. I love my life. I love this town. I even love all the rain. And it’s much easier to love it all, because I know that even after it’s all behind me, life gets even better.

We’d love to have you visit us at Church sometime. We talk about things like this. You don’t have to dress up. Wear something. Otherwise you might get arrested. But you don’t have to get all dressed up. Sometimes people think you have to put on fancy duds to come to church. No Way. You can. Some people do. Heck sometimes even I do. But not always. Come as you are. We meet at 11 a.m. At the intersection of West Church and Pringle streets. We also have a meeting at 6:20 sunday evenings. You’d be welcome at either…or both. If you have a church home, I encourage you to go there. But if you don’t you are more that welcome to visit with us.

That’s all I’ve got for now. We’ll talk again soon. But for the rest of this week…..I’m out.

Immigration, Crisis or Opportunity? 8 Things Christians Should Be Doing RIGHT NOW To Respond To The Situation

RefugeesHmm…What to do on a slow December day? Make popcorn? Watch Downton Abbey for the zillionth time?  Oh, I know, let’s blog about a ‘hot button’ issue; I choose…Immigration. After all, I can tell from my Facebook and Twitter feeds that almost everyone has an opinion, whether the subject is illegal immigration (particularly) from South of the border, or accepting Syrian (Muslim) refugees. Now, that should warm things up on a cold winter’s day.

Here’s the catch, though, I don’t want to discuss the political or national debate/implications, I wish to examine how I believe the Church should respond, and some reasons why I believe as I do.

This post will be especially hard to swallow for those of us from a more politically conservative ideology. The things I’m about to propose may feel counterintuitive to that demographic, because we have so mingled our faith commitment and our patriotic commitment that sometimes they have become identical in our thinking and are difficult to separate.

What happens, then, when situations arise that create a conflict between the Great Commandment, the Great Commission, and our American Patriotic commitment to our understanding of the Constitution? In such an event, which side will we come down on?

I have found myself in just such a predicament as a result of our current immigration debates. I have some strongly held political views which I will not discuss here.  I will however, make a couple of observations related to our immigration situation, and make some suggestions as to how I believe the Church should respond.

We have somewhere between 12 million and 20 million illegal immigrants in the country right now, with many more on the way. Most, but by no means all, are from Spanish speaking countries, arriving by way of our border with Mexico.

Our Government has decided to offer political refugee status to a large number of individuals and families from the war torn Middle East. We are expecting many thousands more in 2016. The vast majority of these refugees are Muslims and many appear to have militant ties.

Politically, these two situations are true hot potatoes and will likely play a major role in next year’s general election. For the Church, however, they may present and unprecedented opportunity.

Allow me to explain:

The two great driving forces of the Christian Faith are what we call ‘The Great Commandment’ and ‘The Great Commission’.

The Great Commandment is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and, Love your neighbor as you love yourself’ (Matthew 22:36-40).  Interestingly, in the parable of the ‘Good Samaritan’ (Luke 10:25-37), Jesus equated the command ‘love your enemies’, with loving neighbor as self.

The Great Commission, found in all four Gospels and the book of Acts, is the command to take the good news of Jesus to every person on earth. Probably the best known account is Matthew 28:18-20.

Both the command and the commission have been the catalyst for the Christian missionary movement since the Church was born on a Spring Sunday morning circa A.D. 30. They drive our efforts at charity and service as well as our desire to evangelize.

In recent years, for a variety of reasons, mission activity has been curtailed, with the number of missionaries falling rapidly and the number of places welcoming Christian missionaries on the decrease.

Some of the reasons for the decline are financial, some are due to priority juggling, many are certainly political, and there others I have neither the time nor space to catalog.

God’s desire for the salvation of the human race, however, has not diminished, so since we have curtailed our international activities, He has, in His providence, brought the world to us.

Perhaps He brought them to us because in some cases we WOULD not go.  As I mentioned, on the whole, our missionary presence around the world has been on the decline for 2 generations. Back in the late 70s when I was first planning to go to the field, one statistic being tossed around was that for every 10 missionaries retiring or leaving the field, only one was being raised up to replace them. The situation has not improved in the last 40 years.

Resources to fund full time missions are drying up. The Southern Baptist Mission Board, for example, announced major cutbacks earlier this year, including human resources, due to financial challenges they face. Most other denominations and fellowships have similar, if less public, stories to tell.

It is my opinion that a large percentage of the financial problems are priority based, both on the individual and congregational levels. For the sake of time, I will save those opinions for another day. Feel free to ask me what I mean.

In some cases, perhaps He brought them here because we COULD not go. The majority of Muslim immigrants (refugees), for example, are from places that were long ago closed to evangelistic activities. It is extremely difficult and not safe to serve in those places. (I pray regularly for the few who have risked much to go to these places in Jesus’ name.)

Similarly, our Universities and corporations are home to many thousands of bright young men and women from places like China (among others), where overt mission activity is difficult.

The glorious truth is, whether we WOULD not, or COULD not go, millions of previously unreached souls are HERE. They are in our communities, our schools, our workplaces. What an opportunity! And we don’t even need a passport to reach out.

Look at all the money we save by reaching out to internationals living among us. We already have access to good nutrition and health care. We have clean water, we have Church buildings and literature and transportation. The open door for reaching these millions of souls is incredible.

As regards those from ‘closed’ countries, it is much safer for them to be exposed to the Gospel here, than in their home countries. And it is certainly safer for those who respond to the message.

For that matter, it is safer for us to share with immigrants that it would be if we travelled to their homelands. We’re not going to be arrested and tortured for proselytizing. That has to be a blessing.

I’m not suggesting that the ‘results’ will be any greater among people hostile to Christianity if we reach out to them here, but the odds are, it’s a whole lot safer all around.  Besides, our job is to Go and Tell. God handles the results.

Over the years, those of us from Evangelical traditions, have at one time or another had our heart strings tugged by a presentation about people from exotic places around the world who received medical attention, got an education, had access to good food and clean water and/or heard about Jesus because someone went to them and we heard their stories. We rejoiced at the news.

21st Century America is like waking up tonsil deep in missionary opportunities. Regardless of our political views on the cause, we should rejoice at what God has brought our way. And we should respond by doing all we can to fulfill the Great Commandment and Great Commission to the millions of lonely, confused, and yes, even criminal souls among us.  I want to finish this post with some action steps to get started taking advantage of the doors God has opened.

  1. Begin praying for the immigrants and refugees in your community.
  2. Contact Bible Societies and Scripture distribution ministries for getting Bibles and other literature in the languages of the newcomers to your area.
  3. Reach out to Missionary agencies that already have ministries to the various countries from which your immigrants have come. They could be a valuable resource in finding ways to serve and assimilate your new residents.
  4. Gather your local Church outreach teams, leaders and prayer warriors to pray and brainstorm on what you can do to serve and reach the immigrants and refugees already among you.
  5. Befriend and serve the foreigners among you. Think about how you would feel if you suddenly found yourself far from home, in a strange land, with strange customs and maybe even a language you don’t understand.
  6. Keep in mind, not all immigrants are alike. For example: Mexicans, Nicaraguans and El Salvadorans all speak Spanish, but have different dialects/accents, different cultures and even different political and social viewpoints. Similarly, those from Islamic countries are not a single culture or even religious viewpoint. An example would be that a Shiite from Iran, a Sunni from Saudi Arabia and an Achmadiyya from Pakistan will have major differing views on the Quran.
  7. Pastors and Small Group leaders, should preach and teach on being open hearted, open handed, service oriented and evangelistically focused.
  8. Ask yourself, with all sincerity, ‘What would Jesus do?’

As I close, I want to remind you of some words from the Apostles John and Peter, and some words of Jesus as quoted by Matthew. John wrote, “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).  Peter reminds us, “God is not willing that any should perish, but that everyone should come to repentance 2 Peter 3:9).” And Matthew records these words of Jesus, “Come to me all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)”.

I love discussion, so please offer your thoughts in the comments section. And, if you, your congregation, or your small group, would like specific suggestions for your area, please email me or use the contact form on the website.

America 2.0 – An Episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’, or a New Mission Opportunity?

Planet of the ApesRemember the ending of the original “Planet of the Apes” movie with Charlton Heston? It was so dramatic with Heston’s character falling on his knees in the sand and cursing the human race as the camera pans out to show a nearly destroyed Statue of Liberty, half buried in sand and water.

The film was universally seen as part Science Fiction, part morality play, but who among us dreamed it was also part prophesy?

The America I grew up in is gone; relegated to TV Land nostalgia and reviled as an ignorant, unenlightened piece of human history. America 2.0 is here. It looks similar to the original, but nearly everything beneath the skin has changed. For those of us who grew up in the first one, America 2.0 is like being in a parallel universe or waking up in an episode of ‘The Twilight Zone.”

In the new world, Morality has been transformed into something personal, situational and democratic. We used to speak of truth, right and wrong, good and evil; now it’s Your/My truth, or how we identify.

Here in America 2.0 ‘Religion’ is bad and has been supplanted by ‘Spirituality’ as the preferred philosophy of the day. This NEW spirituality is tolerant of every world view except one based on the Bible, even if that world view wants to eliminate the one they hold.

The people of this new America have a different perspective on Government and our relationship to it. They look differently at social institutions like marriage and the family, as well as matters of life and death.

America 2.0 creates, embraces, enforces or overturns laws based on democracy and popular opinion rather than the constitution. I am not sure the Constitution is relevant to America 2.0 other than in some quaint, historic way.

It’s a strange feeling to live in a place where so much looks and sounds familiar, even comfortable, but beneath the surface is fundamentally different than what I know. Sometimes I become disoriented and confused, unable to get my bearings.

Looking back, I’ve had some of these emotions before. Thirty Five years ago, I moved from my familiar Old Kentucky Home, to the already Post Christian, United Kingdom, and my world was dumped on its head.

The U.K. was stunningly beautiful and offered great opportunity.  The language was (mostly) the same, and on the surface the changes in culture were only slight. I thought adjusting would be a snap. Boy Howdy was I wrong.

I should have taken a cue from the fact that they drove on the opposite side of the road as I was used to doing, that there was a different way of thinking.

As the days slipped into months, the differences piled up, and I went into what’s called, Culture Shock. The Brits generally viewed EVERYTHING differently than I did. To one degree or another, culturally, socially, educationally, spiritually, morally, economically and politically, I was in unfamiliar, often uncomfortable, territory. The only similarity seemed to be that the British Politicians were just as stupid as American ones; just with differently cut suits.

Slowly, it dawned on me that I was the outsider and if I was ever going to reach people with the Gospel, I was going to have to accept that and would need to make some adjustments and learn to communicate in ways that were understood by the wonderful residents of my adopted country.

On the whole, I was able to adapt, and had a delightful 13 years in Great Britain (mostly spent in Scotland).

Those of us who are Christ Followers would be way ahead of the game, if, instead of railing against how our country has changed, and wasting time and energy trying to recreate the America of our past, would recognize we live in a different country; the one I call America 2.0, and treat it like a mission field.  (How’s that for one complex sentence? Grammar Police, beware! Oops, too late.)

If I understand my Bible, and I think I do, our citizenship is in Heaven. We are foreigners here, and don’t fully belong.  We are ambassadors of another Kingdom. We are here to promote the benefits of our home and encourage emigration from here to there (Remember, Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36), and that Peter reminded us in 1 Peter 2:11 that we are ‘strangers and aliens in this world’).

There are going to be many uncomfortable encounters as our world views collide. We must stay focused on our task, sharing good news and setting captives free.  Paul reminds us in his second letter to Timothy that ‘a soldier does not get entangled in civilian affairs, but does his best to follow the orders of his commanding officer (4:2). Jesus’ Good News never changes, and sharing His hope and love is our singular mission. As men and women respond to Him, cultural, moral and even political challenges will work themselves out.

I urge the Church, to focus on people over culture shift, to keep the main thing the main thing. These things I’m suggesting are counter intuitive to what many of us have grown up believing related to faith and patriotism. I dare say, many of us, especially those of us on the social, political and religious ‘right’ side of the spectrum, have a hard time separating our Christianity from our patriotism. As a result, we lean towards conflating a ‘revival IN America’ with a ‘revival OF America’.  The culture that WAS America has moved away. Whether it was better or worse than this America 2.0 is of no consequence. The Church, if we are truly the Church, we were foreigners then, just as we are aliens now.

We used to sing a song, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through.”  I’m challenging the body of Christ to return to that philosophy.  As I understand the Bible, it is by HIS stripes, rather than the stars and stripes, that we are healed.

I went to Scotland as a Christian Ambassador, not an American one. It was not my place to get involved in their political wrangling. It was my job to preach Christ and Him crucified.

As Christ followers, we are not citizens of America OR America 2.0. What good does it do when we are obvious foreigners to them? We don’t even speak the same moral, spiritual or political language.

It is my deep conviction that we would do a better job pointing the citizens of America 2.0 to the true freedom of the Kingdom of God, rather attempting to turn the whole culture of a country back to a system that didn’t work any better than the one they’re trying to create now.

If you’ll permit an overly simple analogy, there is very little value in telling people not to play with matches if they’re house is already on fire.  Our task, if you will, is to rescue people from the flames. We can worry about putting out fires, and fire safety after the rescue is completed.

The fact is, America has been replaced. We live in America 2.0.  I suggest that rather than fall in the waves in despair and anger along with Charlton Heston, that we delight in the pioneer opportunities of bringing God’s Good News to a brand new place.

 

Are Immigrants The American Church’s Greatest Untapped Outreach Opportunity?

World Map DarkI stood transfixed by the sensory overload as I was assaulted by the array of sights, smells and sounds of the open market. I had seen similar markets throughout the world, from Mexico to Mumbai, teeming with people of all ages as they searched for everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to rebuilt household appliances.

Looking around, I found myself standing next to a table overflowing with cockfighting DVDs, while the aroma of taquitos, empanadas and tamales tantalized my nostrils and the sounds of a myriad Spanish dialects flooded my ears with both spoken and musical words.

Like being suddenly awakened from a dream, it took me a few moments to adjust to my surroundings and realize that I was not in Mexico, or Honduras, or Bolivia, or Argentina or any of the countries my travels had taken me. I was, in fact, right here in NW Georgia, just a few miles from our little farmstead.

On any given Saturday, metro Atlanta provides an opportunity to visit, Jamaica, Nigeria, India, S.E. Asia, and a host of Latin American countries without ever leaving the I-75 corridor. The abundance of flea and farmers’ markets in our region can virtually transport us anywhere around the world. It’s like EPCOT without the outrageous admission fees. And I love it!

As someone who has spent much of my adult life as a Christian Missionary, or working for Mission organizations, I can’t help but see an opportunity for the Gospel that in most cases we are allowing to slip by.  So I thought I’d take a few moments and hopefully move it to the front burner.

Recently, David Platt, President of the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board, and author of the best-selling book ‘Radical’ announced that due to lack of resources, the FMB was being forced to reduce the number of personnel stationed around the world. I’m not a Baptist, but my heart still sank. The fact is, what’s true for our Baptist cousins, is true for the rest of the American Christian Church as well.

If we look under the covers, we can find several reasons why our ability to send more dollars and missionaries has been reduced, and someday soon, I’ll tackle some of those, but for now, I want to highlight a silver lining to our predicament. While we are being forced to cut back on ‘going’ and ‘sending’ (God have mercy on us), the world is coming to us!

Leaving aside the thorny political issue of illegal immigration, the fact is, millions of foreign nationals live in our communities with millions more on the way.  This influx provides the Christian Community with unprecedented opportunities for outreach and service.

Off the top of my head, I’m thinking our congregations could offer English classes, job opportunities, classes in how to find a job, basic literacy, how to budget and handle money classes. We could offer basic services like assisting a family to find housing or basic auto maintenance. We could assist these new arrivals in finding medical care. In fact, what if health care professionals in our churches volunteered time to serve these families in the same way we often go overseas to set up clinics? (Think, ‘Doctors without Borders’ who don’t need to cross boarders).

Perhaps we could begin offering worship and outreach services targeted at immigrant populations, or even planting Churches among them. (For the record and before some of you blow a gasket, yes, I believe in assimilation, but I don’t believe in waiting for that before reaching out with the hope and love of Jesus.). I can close my eyes and see a mighty army of world changers who already understand cultures and languages that would take American nationals years to learn, being sent out from our Churches to places we’ve never gone, or maybe never been allowed to go.

We have the world at our doorstep; and unlimited opportunity to serve in Jesus’ name. We don’t need mission boards or parachurch organizations to reach them.  Our opportunities will vary with the immigrant makeup of our own communities. Where my wife and I live it will be mostly Hispanic, but other places may be Haitian, Jamaican, Indian, Pakistani, Nigerian, Filipino, Chinese, or a host of other nationalities. All we need to do is open our eyes and hearts to discover ‘the fields are ripe for harvest’ right outside our windows.

Our colleges and universities are also home to large numbers of young adults from other places. Many of them are confused and lonely and could use some real friends, even if we do look and sound funny to them. I have been an immigrant, far from what is familiar, and know first hand how wonderful it is to be truly welcomed by someone in my adopted country. The Church should be leading the way in welcoming foreign students.

I don’t mean to bore anyone with a Greek lesson, but when we look at Matthew 28:19, 20 (The Great Commission) in the Greek we find the command is ‘Make Disciples’. ‘Go’, ‘baptize’ and ‘teach’ are participles describing HOW we make disciples. I have some great news, sometimes we don’t have to ‘Go’ very far.  Sometimes the world is no farther away than, well, the other side of our front doors.