Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Three Things You Don't Want to Forget

There are many ways to share the Gospel with others, but let's face it, actually speaking the Good News is pretty intimidating for most of us. The mere prospect of rejection -- or worse -- is often enough to stop us dead in our tracks.

One way to push through the reluctance we feel is to remember the sharing part comes last.

Prayer is first.

What could be easier than praying for someone in your life who needs to know God's love the way you do. Normally, you might think of people at work, school, or your next-door neighbors. But what if you have absolutely nothing in common with them? If that's the case, then your hobbies and interests -- things you really have a passion for -- can be your guide.

Whatever passion you have, that is a natural door to starting a conversation.

Next, is caring.

Caring is the investment that increases the value of the faith you share. Even more, when people see the difference that faith, trust, and peace brings to your life -- especially in the rough stretches of your life - they will likely want to know more. Getting to that level of friendship takes some time -- time spent together -- a personal investment of hours.

And then, finally, there's sharing.

Sharing sounds intimidating, doesn't it? It usually means pushing through a boundary you haven't crossed with that friend before, which is tough if you don't know what's on the other side. What if your friend disagrees? Well, if he or she does, that's perfectly fine. People disagree all the time, especially where God and religion are concerned. Relax. Realize you'd probably have questions, too, if the situation was turned around. Pray for God to open your eyes to chances to share what Jesus means to you and how He's helped you through life's rough patches.

That leads you right back to prayer and care again. Bring to God the new things you learned about your friend in the time you spent together. Pray about their concerns, their struggles, and their worries. Think about similar situations in your life, and how your faith helped -- or how it would have helped if you hadn't tried to carry the matter by yourself.

Pray. Care. Share: three simple things to remember when we're talking to people about Jesus.

Talking to others about Jesus can be a challenge. Then again, we probably make it tougher than it is by thinking it's all about our quick wit and personality. It's really not about us. He will lead. He will empower, if only we will listen.

What do you think about sharing your faith?

Tell us by clicking here and letting us know.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Purpose. What's Yours - And How Do You Know?

My son Adam has a friend I'll call Ben. The two of them met online in a web-based training program for professional animators. Ben lives in Alaska; he is a very quiet guy; and he and his family have absolutely no connection of any kind with church or the Christian faith.

Now, since making connections in the animation industry is tough from Alaska, Adam invited Ben to come live with our family in Missouri. We invited Ben to church often; we invited him to join us in prayer; Adam invited him to the Bible study he was involved in; we had our natural family conversations about faith around him; when my wife was in the last days of her battle with cancer, we included him in our prayer times and times of devotional singing. In short, I know Ben saw a lot of the whole range of experience that we would call the Christian life.

Okay, so I'm confident the Holy Spirit was at work the whole time; I won't deny Him that. But as far as I could tell, our witness didn't have an impact on Ben's resistance.

I don't know for sure if it would have made a difference, but there is something that came to me later, after he had returned to Alaska (why does it so often seem to happen that way?). I know that Ben would at least have to have put in some thought if I had asked him one question: BEN, WHAT'S YOUR PURPOSE?

Visionary Gabe Lyons beautifully articulates purpose as Christians understand it in his book The Next Christians: "The next Christians believe that Christ's death and resurrection were not only meant to save people from something. He wanted to save Christians to something. God longs to restore his image in them, and let them loose, freeing them to pursue his original dreams for the entire world. Here, now, today, tomorrow."

Yes! As the one thing in all creation that God made in His own image, humans were made to work alongside Him in caring for everything else He had made; and in a fallen universe, God still calls us to work alongside Him -- to help Him restore everything to Himself again -- starting with other humans.

But if you don't believe in God -- if you're convinced, for example, that we're all here by way of a process of random mutations and other happenstances -- how do you discover your purpose? How can you even intuit that you have one? And if you do discover something you believe to be your purpose, where'd it come from? No, really -- where'd it come from?

The thing is, faith or no faith, people want to know their purpose; they search for it daily. Google it for yourself: just type in "What is my purpose in life?" What you'll find is that folks from Focus on the Family to Forbes to Psychology Today -- and on and on -- have advice for you. More often than not, if the adviser does not have God to point to, then he or she will try to persuade you that your purpose comes from within you.

But in a worldview without God -- in a universe where you and I might be random results of random occurrences -- that explanation doesn't satisfy. "What's your purpose?" becomes a question without an answer. In a worldview with God ... well, it's really not a mystery.

Your turn. What's your purpose? What would you have to share with a guy like Ben?

You can share your comments by clicking here.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Some Weren't Sent ... But They Went

Shavuot was one of the three major pilgrimage festivals for which devout first-century Jews traveled to Jerusalem annually. It was also known as the Feast of Weeks, because you counted seven weeks, or 49 days, from Passover, and then held Shavuot on the fiftieth day. Most people know Shavuot by the Greek word for "fiftieth day": Pentecost.

Shavuot commemorated the giving of the Torah to Israel by God at Mount Sinai. So historically it was linked to the exodus-and probably the reason they held it so soon after Passover. The fact that Jewish males were expected, no matter where they lived, to come to Jerusalem for both Passover and Shavuot no doubt posed challenges for some people. If you lived in faraway Syria or Egypt or Mesopotamia (Iraq) or Parthia (Iran), you had to travel a long way and a long time to get to and from these events. No wonder not many folks made every pilgrimage every year.

Some indeed came from all those places, though; Acts 2 says so. Remember? The disciples suddenly turn up speaking the native languages of all these diaspora Jews, and the pilgrims say to each other, "We are Parthians, Medes, Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judah, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome; Jews by birth and proselytes; Jews from Crete and from Arabia...! How is it that we hear them speaking in our own languages about the great things God has done?"

Christians around the world celebrated the modern feast of Pentecost a little more than a week ago. What might the pilgrims who attended that world-shaking first Pentecost of the Christian era likely have been doing a little more than a week after the event? Probably traveling the road home. And there's something that intrigues me about that.

You see, right after His resurrection, Jesus told His disciples (John 20:21), "As the Father has sent Me, so I am sending you." But they didn't go right away.

Next Jesus took the disciples to a mountain in Galilee and sent them (Matthew 28), saying "Make disciples of all nations." But then He told them to go to Jerusalem and wait -- so they didn't go right away.

And on the Mount of Olives Jesus told the disciples that they would be His witnesses to the remotest places on earth (Acts 1), but again, He told them to wait in Jerusalem -- so they didn't go right away.

Then in Acts 2 we read about the pouring-out of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem and the church being born when 3,000 people believed and were baptized. Still, we don't get a report of one of the disciples who had been sent by Jesus actually going anywhere until Acts 8, when Philip, followed by Peter and John, went to evangelize up the road in Samaria.

Yet in the very next chapter of Acts, we get the story of Saul traveling to Damascus, in Syria, to round up a whole group of believers. If by this point Jesus' disciples were only just beginning to move outside Jerusalem, where did these believers 1,800 miles away in Damascus come from? Well, how about from among those 3,000 diaspora Jews who had been in Jerusalem for Shavuot?

There's no question that Jesus sent His disciples -- but the first believers who actually went -- and shared the Gospel -- were probably those festival pilgrims.
Can this have meaning for us today?

Yes. Here's just one example. Close to two million people living in the United States are non-immigrant internationals -- many of them students. Most are here for a short time; most intend to return to their home countries. Often, when they discover that Christianity is not just a western religion, not just a religion for people of European descent, many want to know more -- and some come to faith in Jesus. And when they return to their countries, they carry the Gospel back with them.

It's like an international mission field right here under our noses.

Can you and I respond to this opportunity right now? Again, yes! Here are some things we can do:

* Be faithful to the Lord who sends all of us -- and to His message of salvation.
* Praise God for changing the hearts of many Shavuot pilgrims 2,000 years ago and then sending them back home carrying the Good News about Jesus.
* Watch and listen for when and where the Spirit might call us and send us.
* Trust God's promise that His Word will accomplish the purpose for which He sent it.
* Pray. A lot.

Let the church's recent celebration of Pentecost remind you that each of us is sent -- some of us across oceans and continents, and some of us across the street or across town. Regardless where, there are people there who are hungry for the Good News we have to share.

"Then (Jesus) said to His disciples, 'The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest'" (Matthew 9:37-38).

Funny how things work out and how the Lord achieves His purposes -- sometimes in some very interesting ways.

You can share your comments by clicking here.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Change Is Good

The writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is a season and a time for everything. We live our lives as a testimony to the truth of these words as we move from one season of life to another, from one activity to another. Each season and activity prepare us for the next.

When we were young we longed for the day we could attend school. School days brought a desire to graduate to the "real world" of marriage, children, work, and responsibility. Those in the real world may wish to move on to an empty nest, and so it goes. Each season of life brought new challenges, more opportunities to fail, and expanded our ability to reach beyond ourselves and influence the world.

The same is true for our activities. When we were young we longed for the day we'd be employed and we rejoiced in our first job. But then our horizons expanded, and we moved to a different endeavor that provided more income, challenges, and growth. Each new occupation moved us closer to the day we'd retire and enjoy the fruit of our labors. Each time we began a new activity we had more opportunities to influence those around us for the LORD.

Lutheran Hour Ministries has a history of providing outreach seminars for congregations. Beginning in 1997 LHM offered Parish Media Teams (PMT) training. This provided congregations with opportunities to expand their outreach into the community.

In 2004 PMT training evolved into Equipping to Share (EtS) seminars. These offered in-depth instruction in personal outreach. This then morphed into MISSION U (MU) School of Outreach education in 2010.

I've been privileged to lead PMT, EtS, and MU classes over the years. I've been in front of thousands of people and humbled to hear reports from class members as they shared their faith, and I've watched the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of others. I know the Kingdom has expanded because of these trainings, and I give all glory to God.

Earlier this month on May 6, I led the last MU workshop. Outreach training and support at LHM is entering a new season with a brand-new online course program rolling out this summer. Now, topical material will be easily accessible for individual and group study, targeting the needs and concerns of engaging in outreach in a 21st-century world.

In the end we do know that regardless of the method of training it's about the words of Christ as recorded in Acts: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).

Men, our task is clear: be His witnesses. In support of this, LHM will continue to produce and distribute relevant materials to help you get the job done even as He blesses your efforts to tell others of the wonderful grace He offers each of us, through His Son Jesus Christ.

As we all know, guys usually don't ask for help or advice, but the stakes are too high in this not to. So let me put three questions to you:

* What topics can LHM research and develop to help you in your outreach efforts?

* What areas of Gospel outreach would you like to see addressed?

* What can we do to help you communicate the Good News to someone else: a son or daughter, a friend, your wife?

Do you have other outreach concerns you'd like to see us take on?

If so, tells us about them by clicking here and sharing your thoughts.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Something Worth Remembering

As we close in on the Memorial Day weekend in a few short days, it's a good time to pause and recall how this special day has a somber edge to it. While it's often seen as a transition point between spring and early summer, the day is one of extreme significance in the history of our nation.

While Memorial Day may not have a personal connection to you due to self or family serving in the military, the fact that people do serve makes the military something that impacts all of us. All one needs to do is consider how important it is that men and women are willing to answer the call to protect our country. In so doing they sacrifice their time, their strength, and sometimes their very lives to defend us, which is something that affects us all right here and now.

It would be nice if it didn't have to be that way. It would be great if men and women didn't have to leave their families to go to war, to suffer physical, emotional, and mental trauma that can sometimes last a lifetime. It would be wonderful if no one had to give the ultimate sacrifice and never come home. But the evil of armed conflict is real, and chances are wars and rumors of wars will be with us for the foreseeable future.

That's why this coming Memorial Day we need to remember and honor those who made great sacrifices so we can live free. To honor them we need to make our lives count; we need to make sure their sacrifices weren't in vain.

And as we remember these valiant souls, it naturally reminds of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ -- the One who made the ultimate sacrifice for us all. The deaths of the men and women we will honor this coming Monday protected our earthly freedom, but Jesus laid down His life to protect our eternal liberty, to pay the price for our sins, to guarantee us eternal life in a perfect world where sin, crime and the ravages of death will be no more.

What's Memorial Day mean to you?

Are there those you know who've paid a heavy price for their military service?

Are you one of them?

On Monday, May 29, Memorial Day, our nation honors the men and women who have served in the Armed Forces of the United States of America. May God bless them richly.

Take a moment and let us know what Memorial Day and military service mean to you. You can do so by clicking here and commenting on the Men's NetWork blog.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Dismantling Our Defenses

Eight days. Eight long, maddening days. Over and over, the 10 apostles told their story: "We saw Jesus! He's alive!" Still no matter what they said, fellow apostle and consummate doubter Thomas refused to believe. Nothing was good enough to dispel his cynicism. For instance, here are a few of the indicators that pointed to Jesus' resurrection: left-behind grave cloths, angel words, detailed stories from women who went to the tomb, Peter's own personal visit from Jesus that Sunday afternoon, the excited comments of two trusted followers walking with Christ to Emmaus, and the admission of 10 of the 12 gathered in the upper room, where Jesus appeared to them.

Nothing.

In fact, it seems the more details they shared, the more Thomas dug in his heels. Toward the end Thomas was to the point of embarrassing himself. Perhaps it was anger, hurt and pride, but he clung to his skepticism: "Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails and put my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe" (see John 20: 24-29).

Now that's someone who's determined to hang on to his unbelief.

Do you have a "Thomas" in your life? Is there a husband or wife - or girlfriend or boyfriend -- who doesn't believe? Is there a child who has wandered from the faith? Do you have a brother or sister whose mind is made up? How about someone at work or a close friend? Are they locking you out? How do you reach someone who refuses to be reached? What do you do with a doubting Thomas?

Thank God for Thomas' unbelief -- no, not the unbelief itself -- but for what that unbelief teaches us about sharing the Good News with others.

Have you ever shared your faith, only to see that doing so seemed to make that person even more resistant to Jesus' message? Did you feel like a failure? Did you ever wonder on occasion if sharing your faith was a mistake?

The other disciples teach us not to give up. They kept sharing. Perhaps, they even reminded Thomas of all the experiences they had shared together in Jesus' presence as well as all the miracles they had seen. There were all the blind who received their sight, the lame who walked, the deaf who heard, the lepers who were cleansed. Together they had seen Jesus multiply bread and fish. They could remind him of that fearful time on the Sea of Galilee when they thought the boat would sink and they would all drown, only to have Jesus wake up and speak a word, stopping the winds, stilling the sea, and bringing calm to the storm. They could remind Thomas of Jesus walking on the water to them.

Who could forget that?

They might have said, "What about those times we watched Jesus square off against death and defeat it? There was that young daughter of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. She had just died when Jesus raised her. Then when we entered the town of Nain and met the funeral procession carrying the widow's son out to burial -- and Jesus raised him hours after his death. And how can we forget Lazarus, dead and buried four days, and yet Jesus was able to overcome death (and stench) and restore him to life? Is it really that big a stretch to think Jesus Himself could rise from the dead?"

When our friends reject the faith we share, we don't reject them. We keep strengthening the bonds of our friendship, watching and praying for the best time to share our faith again.

I always wondered why Jesus waited a whole week: eight long days to show Himself. Maybe it was to teach us it is not our job to convince or persuade someone to believe. After all, if it was in the apostles' power to make someone believe, shouldn't eight days have been enough for Thomas? Luther had it right: "I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him." And we cannot by our own reason or strength lead someone else to believe in Him.

All the disciples could do was faithfully share what they knew. All we can do is faithfully share what we know. Be patient, kind, and gentle. Build up that relationship and shake off frustration. Also, don't badger them as if it was up to us and our efforts to bring them to faith.

It was in God the Father's good time that Jesus finally came back to that upper room on the eighth day. No disciple could bring Thomas to believe. It was Jesus' visit and the power of the Holy Spirit that finally shattered his unbelief. "Thomas, put your finger in My hand, stretch out your hand and put it into My side. Stop doubting -- no, stop refusing to believe -- and believe!" (See John 20:27.)

Finally, the truth sunk in. "My Lord and my God!"

It was Jesus' visit that worked faith in Thomas, and it is His visit to our friends, coworkers, family and loved ones through the Gospel we share that the Holy Spirit works saving faith, even among those who seem most resistant.

Thank God for Thomas' unbelief -- but far more for his repentant belief.

Are there people in your life who flat out will have nothing to do with God's love -- or His promise of a better life through His Son Jesus Christ?

If you've had such an experience talking to people about Jesus, your faith, and the bigger picture, just click here and share your story.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Power of Our Good Deeds

It seems only right as this will be the last e-news blog before the Men's NetWork WORK DAY on Saturday, April 29, that a few words be offered on the event and the guys who have participated in it.

As you already know, 2017 is the fifth year for this gig. Originally, the Men's NetWork kicked off the WORK DAY as a way for guys to get their men's groups focused on work activities that would help others. While individuals of all kinds have benefited from WORK DAY projects, the event's thrust was to reach and connect with people who are outside the church.

To that end, the Men's NetWork WORK DAY has been an admirable success. Individuals and families have been blessed through numerous projects and the love of Christ has been shared in deed and word. This year as your men's group gets together to work on April 29, remember that those brush strokes you apply, those nails you drive, those mulch beds you rake, and those gutters you clean are expressions of God's love through your hands and feet.

Eleven days to go. It's an exciting time of the year for us at Lutheran Hour Ministries and the Men's NetWork. We look forward to seeing your pictures and reading your brief stories in the days ahead as you recap your WORK DAY efforts for us. Believe it or not, there is still time to get on board with a project this April 29. If you have something in mind but that specific Saturday doesn't work for your group, you can schedule some other day in the future. Other groups have done this in the past, and it works equally well.

For those who have joined in on past WORK DAYs, what are some of the personal benefits you took away as a participant? Was there anything that surprised you? Was there anything you would do next time to increase your experience? How did the people you helped feel about your efforts?

To share your thoughts, click here!