// Modify the default loop, include custom post types global $wp_query; $args = array_merge( $wp_query->query, array( 'post_type' => 'any' ) ); query_posts( $args );

Be Kind

Kindness is defined a number of ways, depending on the one that receives that kindness.  I think an adequate summary might be: showing gentleness, helpfulness and consideration through our words and actions.

Kindness seems to be a rare commodity these days.  In an increasingly coarse culture, the exchange of ideas has come to resemble the volley of weapons on the battlefield.  It is my observation that battle lines are quickly drawn and attacks ensue, no matter the importance of the issue.  Offense and misunderstandings increase in this environment, because we are all too often loaded for bear when we approach any conversation…even among friends.

Friends.  That brings to mind Facebook, Twitter and other social media.  Insulated behind our screens and keyboards, we will often carry our arguments much farther than we may have intended, resorting to personal attacks and ad hominem arguments rather than having an adult discussion of the facts and our positions.

So, what are “we” to do.  By “we,” I am specifically addressing the one who is reading this who would identify herself as a believer in Jesus, seeking to allow His Lordship to be expressed in all areas of life.  I suggest four thoughts that should guide us in every discourse.  To make them memorable, I have followed the K-I-N-D acrostic to form my outline.

Kingdom – As Christians, we are citizens of the Kingdom of God.  In all things, including our conversations, we are instructed to “seek first His Kingdom AND righteousness.”  There is often a large gulf between being “right” and being “righteous.”  If my being “right” is or has become more important than my relationship with God, first of all, and my sister, friend…even my enemy, I need to correct my course.  Kingdom citizens love, even our “enemies.”

Intent – What is my intent in this conversation or action?  Is love my motive?  Am I being moved by my emotional investment in this issue, or the good of the other person or people involved?  Am I seeking God’s glory?  I am finding that when I begin to examine my motive and intentions, I will be much more constructive in my conversations and actions.  How about you?

Necessary – Quite simply, some things are not even worth argument or conflict.  The old adage, “Choose your battles,” can save so much heartache, stress and time.  I have friends on Facebook who have way too much time on their hands for arguments over “non-essentials.”  I do realize that labeling something non-essential is a bit subjective, BUT, simply taking the time to ask myself the question, “Is it necessary for me to insert myself or my opinion here?” can be the difference in becoming a stumbling block to others.

Define – A thoughtful college professor of mine used to say, “Words don’t have meanings, people do.”  It’s a bit of a twist, I know, but taking the time to give definition to a person can create an environment for meaningful interaction.  I may totally disagree with someone, including their positions on issues and even lifestyle, and still have a positive relationship with them.  In Romans 12:18, Paul says, “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with all people.”

You may notice something, here.  All the responsibility for a KIND environment of interaction depends on me.  I cannot control anyone but myself.  If I am showing kindness and genuine communication fails, I can excuse myself, with kindness, and walk away with a clear conscience and peace within.  It’s a miserable day when I’ve failed to be kind and am nagged by those “I really should have said…I really should have done…” thoughts.

In the end, kindness wins, every time.  Have you found this to be true?  I’d love to know your thoughts or hear your story about the power of kindness.

 

Bibles For China – A Testimony – May 2017

When landing in Beijing and going through customs I looked around to see who was there that I could visit with, just because that’s pretty much who I am. Right there in front of me in line was Sim. Now this is a big deal for me. She had landed from Singapore and I had flown from Chicago. My flight was early so in my opinion for the two of us to be standing in line together was an added blessing from God. We were able to get our luggage and then meet other members of our team who were coming from Beijing and Ohio for us to all be together for five days serving as members of the Bibles for China team that would be distributing Bibles in rural China.

Sim has been with us on other trips and to have her join us and be an encouragement to both the Chinese community and our team has been a wonderful experience for her as well as for the rest of us. She comes to be with us at her own expense because of a dedicated heart for her love of the Bible and His people. She feels that the Lord has placed a call upon her life to be one who makes a difference in the world. We thank God that she has a willingness to show up where the Lord is moving and make herself available with a heart of love, joy and passion for serving.

I asked Sim the question. Tell us about how you heard about Bibles for China and why do you join us? Her reply is as follows:

Sim’s words. “I came across Bibles for China when I was searching online for opportunities to do mission work in China. God led me to search for mission opportunities in China because of previous experiences ministering to the mainland Chinese during a short missions course I did in Hong Kong 2 years ago. Also, China has a very special place in my heart because although I am a Singaporean, my ancestors came from Fujian province in China. During my trips with Bibles for China, God opened my eyes to see His heart for the Chinese. I have also been greatly encouraged by the many amazing testimonies shared by the Chinese Christians, especially of those who stay in the more rural parts of China – how despite them staying a few hours away from the nearest church, they still continue to go to their church to worship and serve God faithfully.” Sim does make a difference.

Maybe the Lord is asking you to be a Sim for the ministry. Pray with us as many from various parts of our world are asking “What or how would I do what the Lord is laying on my heart that needs my involvement.” We just have just finished a wonderful trip where we sensed the leadership of the Lord and his affirmation toward Bibles for China in keeping our mandate crisp and focused on “A passion for Bibles. A heart for China”. Together with you, we are blessed when we are in the center of His will.

Help us send Bibles to China

There Are No Lone Rangers Here

No Lone Rangers Here

When we are “born again,” by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are born into an extended family of believers, what we call the Church.  Throughout the New Testament, we find various expressions and illustrations that give us a picture of what exactly that is.  In the letters of Paul, “the Bride of Christ” and the “Body of Christ” are used to illustrate the unity we are to experience, a unity that celebrates our differences in gifts, talents, etc.  The message is clear, however, we stand together, in community…in koinonia.

Koinonia is fellowship

The most common translation of the Greek word, koinonia, is fellowship.  In Acts 2, for example, Luke says:

They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Luke 2:42 (NASB)

In their cultural context, the early believers were wholly devoted to one another, meeting together regularly to share meals, pray together and hear the apostles teaching, continually.  This was not your church potluck kind of fellowship.  There was an intimacy that is particularly telling in the word, continually.  This was their habit.  This was their lifestyle.  They depended on one another.  They cared for one another.  They shared resources and space.  This was true fellowship.

Koinonia is contribution

As the message of the gospel spread throughout the known world, needs arose…some of them were enormous.  In Romans 15, we read:

For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.  Romans 15:26 (NASB)

This is an example of koinonia as contribution.  In this case, the contribution was monetary, to meet the needs of Christians in Jerusalem who were experiencing a time of drought and famine.  As word spread, brothers and sisters responded.  This can be seen as a model, even today, as Christians who have the means help suffering sisters and brothers around the world with their physical needs.  At home, we are called to do the same.  Genuine community means that we respond to our brothers and sisters who are in need.  We offer assistance.  We offer shelter.  We give freely and with joy, because it is our privilege to contribute.  It is an expression of our love for God and for one another.

Koinonia is participation

In Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, we see stated what is only illustrated elsewhere.  Koinonia is a call to participation.  Paul says:

3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, 5 in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now.  Philippians 1:3-5 (NASB)

Each of us, individually and in community are participants in the gospel.  As we use the gifts and graces of God within our community, we realize the purpose for which God created the church: the proclamation of the gospel.  As we give; as we teach; as we preach; as we serve; as we ____________, the grace of God is realized, not just for the church, but for the unchurched.  In so doing, we fulfill that for which God has redeemed us.  Jesus instructs us to let our lights so shine before men, that they may see our good works and glorify our father in heaven.  I believe that light illumines the path for believer and unbeliever, alike.  In Ephesians, Paul declares that we are “His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, that He prepared beforehand” (Eph. 2:10).  As we walk and work, in fellowship, we are participating in the gospel.  What a privilege!

Koinonia is sharing

We all learned to share early in life.  If you have children, you make every effort to teach them to share their toys graciously…and fail miserably most of the time, right.

Well, we’ve more than covered the privilege of sharing our material wealth with others above.  Here, we’re talking about sharing the load, as it were.  All too often, the church places the burden of ministry on the shoulders of the “professionals.”  You know, that’s what we pay the pastors to do, isn’t it?  Nothing can be farther from the truth.  Biblically, the pastor/teacher’s role is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12-16).

We are all called to share in the work.  We are all gifted to share in the work.  It is not a burden.  It is a privilege.  Again, as we walk and share in the gospel, we declare our love for God and one another.

 

No…there are no Lone Rangers here.  We seek to walk in fellowship, in koinonia, in community, with all the rights, responsibilities and privileges that brings.

What “part” of koinonia do you most enjoy?  What challenges you the most?  I’d love for you to participate and share in the comments, below.

 

I LOVE Donald Trump!

 

trumhaterI confess, I am not the MOST politically engaged person in the world.  I rarely watch the news, for a number of reasons.  I do READ the news, however, and make an effort to stay informed from a variety of sources.

This often leads me to like, share, retweet…which is fed into my Facebook feed.  I recently retweeted a real-time comment someone made on a speech that was being delivered by the Republican presidential candidate for the presidency of the good ‘ole US of A.  This comment was aimed at the impression left that religious liberty is limited to pastors not being threatened with censure for what they are saying from the pulpit.  The tweet reads:

Donald Trump thinks allowing pastors free speech at church is the front line on religious liberty? That’s unacceptable. #RNCinCLE

A friend and brother asked a fair question in the comments below the retweet:

James, why are you such a Trump hater.

I’ve thought about my response and searched my heart for the appropriate method of responding.  I decided it was best to put it in writing, here…so, here goes:

I LOVE Donald Trump!  I really do.

There are some things I HATE about Trump, however.

I’ve chosen to outline these things I HATE based upon a familiar and often quoted scripture, Proverbs 6:17-19.  Here’s said passage of scripture, lifted from The Message translation:

Here are six things God hates, and one more that he loathes with a passion: 6:17 eyes that are arrogant, a tongue that lies, hands that murder the innocent, 6:18 a heart that hatches evil plots, feet that race down a wicked track, 6:19 a mouth that lies under oath, a troublemaker in the family.

Bible scholar friends, please don’t hate on me.  It is merely serving as an outline, here.  I understand I am not “interpreting” this scripture, here.  Also, to my friends who support Trump, don’t hear me saying that “God hates Trump,” or “God hates Hillary.”  There’s enough of that sort of rhetoric around.

My thoughts:

Trump exudes an arrogant pride that shouts down nearly every positive thing he tries to say.  That may appear to be an unfair assessment to some, but it is true.  (Secretary Clinton, the Democrative nominee, is just as guilty.)

Trump tells lies.  He is painted by many as a habitual liar, infected with a character flaw that he dangerously believes his own lies.  Have you read the interview in the New Yorker, in which his ghostwriter “tells all?”  (Again, Secretary Clinton is guilty as charged here, too.)

I’m not sure where Trump stands on abortion.  I believe abortion is murder.  In fact, I personally believe that there is no more innocent life that is taken than a baby that is killed through abortion.  There is no room for compromise, as far as I’m concerned.  Trump seems to have an evolving position, depending on where he is and what he is doing.  That is illustrated in an article from the Washington Post.  (Secretary Clinton is clear on her stance, as recent interviews show.)

In Matthew 15:18, Jesus reminds us that what comes out of a person’s mouth reveals who that person is.  Trump makes a habit of assassinating the character of those who oppose him.  He calls people idiot, loser, etc. without reservation.  The context of his speech is usually self-promotion at the expense of just about everyone else.  It’s sad, really.  (Secretary Clinton…again, guilty as charged)

Examine the life and habits of Mr. Trump.  He may not drink or smoke, as has been reported by so many of my supportive friends on Facebook, but his life is littered with evil exploits, about which he has bragged in print (see his book).  (Secretary Clinton…well, her life has been under a microscope for a long time.  No reason to rehearse it, here.)

We’ve already mentioned Mr. Trump’s penchant for telling untruths, so we’ll not visit there again.

Let me just say, my issues with Mr. Trump…and Secretary Clinton, are too numerous to fully address in a blog post.  BUT…

I LOVE Donald Trump!  I pray for him.

The same is true for Secretary Clinton.  I LOVE her!  I pray for her.

The politics of personal destruction, the politics of fear, the political machine that consumes what is right and good in our society, if there is anything, just makes me sick to my stomach.  The fact that people will sell their soul in their quest for political power and influence is beyond disappointing, particularly when I see it happening among my brothers and sisters in Christ.  The scripture twisting that is currently happening to support a candidate is nonsensical.  My heart aches over this…and so much more.

So, I’ll continue to share political news, comments, posts, etc. that I find interesting.  My sharing does not necessarily mean I totally agree or disagree.  I have folks I love on both sides of nearly every issue.  Our disagreement enriches my life.

Mark, thanks for asking your question.  I hope my answer has brought some clarity to what I am thinking.  Ultimately, I am but a sojourner, here.  My life and breath is given to a constant seeking of the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.  I continue to wrestle with the issues that face us in this election cycle.  Please, pray for me.  I’m praying for you.

 

Bibles For China: Why We Give and Why We Go

1. Once open doors may be closing

You may have recently heard the news that Russia has recently implemented some tough restrictions on religious expression, in the name of “anti-terrorism.”  If you haven’t, here’s an article from The Gospel Coalition, speaking to the issue of the new Russian restrictions.  This follows closely on the heels of a new policy being implemented in China to gain more control of the activities of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that are sponsored by foreign groups and partnered with local groups within China.  The Guardian (UK) recently published an article outlining some of the concerns with this new policy in China.

Our partnership with Bibles For China continues to provide open doors for us to reach into the lives of brothers and sisters, the majority of them never having had a Bible of their own, and provide them the opportunity to grow in the faith, to be discipled.  This door may or may not remain open.  Now, more than ever, our giving is important, while the opportunity remains.  Now, more than ever, our going (Pastor Tim will be returning to China in October) is important, while the door is open, to touch the lives of so many believers, encouraging their pastors and leaders to remain faithful to the call of the gospel.

2. We have a unique calling

There is no doubt in my mind (Pastor James) that God has granted us a unique privilege and calling to participate in this ministry.  As your church leadership prayed about the call to “go into all the world,” we sought a concrete way we could make a difference in the lives of believers on foreign soil.  China was an obvious option for us.  How, though?  By God’s providence, Bibles For China came across my desk.  Compelled to call, a connection was made across a table at Chik-Fil-A, off Peachtree St., in Atlanta.  Wendell Rovenstine didn’t know what to think, at first, I don’t think, but a connection of heart and purpose has been established between us.  God continues to affirm within us this calling and we dare not ignore it.

3. We have a precious and powerful gift

The giving of gifts is an established tradition in China.  When you come as a guest, you bring a gift…a personal expression of honor and respect for those who are offering hospitality.  There is something precious and powerful in the gift we bring as guests.  The hospitality of the host churches is immeasurable.  The ‘place of honor’ given to you as a guest can probably go to your head, if you let it.  The crowds, pressing in upon you, to get a look at your face…many of them never having seen the face of an American before…to shake your hand and say hello…to take a selfie.  It can be overwhelming.  Clarity comes, however, when those boxes of Bibles come into view.  Our presence, sure it is an important part of the “event,” if you will.  The privilege, however, of joining hands with the Chinese pastors and leaders to place these precious gifts into the hands of our brothers and sisters…that is paramount.  We are, after all, there, not to enjoy being treated like an honored guest, but to support the local leadership, equip them to more faithfully fulfill their calling to make disciples of these brothers and sisters.  What a privilege!

4. We are bringing salvation home

The satisfaction of seeing precious people holding THEIR Bible for the first time is pretty amazing.  BUT…that’s not why we participate.  Swooping in and dropping a load of Bibles into a rural church IN CHINA…that’s very cool, really it is.  BUT…that’s not why we give and go.  We give and we go, because each of those Bibles goes into a home that needs God’s Word.  The message of the gospel, the story of God’s love, is being taken home…AND God is using that open door to bring salvation into homes.  Holding their own Bible, Chinese Christians are going home with a renewed confidence.  Many of them have prayed for years to have a Bible of their own to study.  That answered prayer, alone, is a testimony and affirmation to husbands and wives, children and grandchildren that the God they serve is faithful.

It’s time to give.

The printing, shipping, handling and delivery of the Bibles averages $5.  Most of us spend that on some self-indulgence, every day.  Our goal is to send $500, minimum, each month to Bibles For China, giving them the finances necessary to cover the costs.  That’s 100 Bibles per month.  One hundred answered prayers.  One hundred homes, changed forever.  You can help.

1979752_670134349711204_911130268_n

 

 

Am I A Racist?

On Monday, July 11, 2016, I reported to jury duty at the Baldwin County Courthouse.

Initially, I sat in the hallway, awaiting, as were many others, the opening of the courtroom to take our seats.  I sat at the end of a pew-like bench, staring at my twitter feed and listening to a conversation between three other members of the jury pool about relatives who were serving time in prison.

The doors opened and we squeezed ourselves into the packed benches of the courtroom, answered the roll-call, raised our right hands and took the jury oath that was read by the presiding judge.

We were a diverse group, many shades of brown faces filled the room.

From this larger jury pool, names were called and we took our place in the jury box.  Once twelve members were seated, our names were called again.  According to the judges instructions, we stood, repeated our name, verbally gave our address, our place of employment, the name of our spouse and their place of employment.  This was repeated, many times over throughout the day.

We were there, together, tasked to serve by some computer algorithm.  We gathered, together, in the name of duty and justice…I guess.

It was an inspiring moment, in some ways.  I was inspired by the diversity of the group.  I was inspired by the camaraderie I witnessed among the group, as I saw complete strangers give preference to one another in seating, etc.  We were there, as citizen-servants.

As I reflect on that day, though, I have become increasingly uncomfortable within myself.

As I revisit the day in my mind, I see the faces, hear the names, the place of employment, etc. I have begun to realize something.

Every person of color I know, those whose skin is a much darker shade of brown than mine…I really don’t share my life with them.  The fact is, I know little more about them than what I now know about those who were in the jury pool on Monday.  I know their name, sometimes, because I have trouble remembering anyone’s name.  I may know where they work.  I may know the name of their spouse.  I may even sit on a bench with them, at church, BUT I really don’t share my life with them.  I shake their hand.  I hug them.  I may even say, “Great to see you…love you, brother/sister,” and I do believe I am telling the truth when I say those things, BUT I really don’t share my life with them.  I’ve never shared a meal with them.  I’ve never shared my home with them.  Other than a few brief moments during a week and an occasional wave on the street…I REALLY DON’T share my life with them.

Am I a hypocrite?  Am I a racist?  Are my Likes, Comments and Shares of posts on social media that relate to our need to listen, explore and love those who have/are experiencing the bite of injustice just a cover for a deeper problem within my heart?

I guess I am coming to terms with the fact that I have so far to go in this journey.  We all do.

In the style of Paul in Philippians 3, I must confess, “I have not arrived.  That is I’m not perfect in performance, in regards to my relationships with those of a different cultural or ethnic group.  BUT, I press on toward the goal, that upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Am I a racist?  No, I don’t believe so.

Do I have room to grow?  Yes.

Do I have changes to make? Yes.

How about you?  I’d love to read your response in the comments…

Write It Down!

Write It Down!

Those three words still echo in my mind.

I was sitting in training, having just started working in a youth psychiatric facility. The segment of the training was about the necessity of documentation, or charting for short.journalingsample

You see, we were the eyes and ears of the psychiatrists. These young people were here to receive treatment to resolve some very serious issues. Without documentation of their daily lives, charting by those of us assigned to supervise and participate in their daily lives, the doctors were left in the dark.

Another phrase that echoes in my mind, “If you don’t chart it, it didn’t happen.”  Talking about what happened was great.  A verbal testimony of the latest events on the unit was necessary, BUT the written documentation is what justified the treatment and the child remaining on the unit or not.

The written chart became a tool for me, too.  The young people that were my responsibility on a particular shift were more than names and numbers.  They had a story.  We were encouraged to read their history, learn their background and read the charting of the events during their residency as a means of becoming aware of the trends in their behavior, etc.

We have a short memory.  Our attention span is short.  Our contemporary culture and media have trained us to think in segments that last 30 seconds to five minutes.  Many of us cannot give a reliable verbal report of what happened yesterday, much less what took place over months and years of our spiritual life.  Much is lost to us over time.  That is one of the main reasons a written record, a journal, is important.

Israel was led astray, abandoned God and sought to worship idols.  Over the years, they often forgot the deliverance afforded them by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  They abandoned the festivals that memorialized God’s ongoing deliverance.  They abandoned the temple and the Law.  In the Old Testament, we see this repeated more often than a contemporary worship leader repeats a chorus in worship.

What rescued them?  What called them back?  Read 2 Kings 22 and 23.  During the reign of Josiah, the long-forgotten book of the Law was rediscovered in the temple.  When it was read in his presence, he tore his robes in grief and repentance before God.  Then the book was read in the presence of all the people and the covenant was restored.  What called them back?  What caused them to remember and be restored.  It was the written word.

In times of suffering, we need written reminders of God’s provision and faithfulness.  We find these in the Bible, to be sure.  We can also find them in our journal, our personal story, and hear God’s reminder.

In times of testing and persecution, we need written reminders of God’s comfort and encouragement.  We find these in the Bible. to be sure.  We can also find them in our journal, our personal story, and hear God’s reminder.

Last night, a member of my small group shared a powerful testimony of the value of a journal.  She had received a set of journals after the death of a relative.  The record of a faith journey, over many years, has become a rich treasure of comfort and inspiration.  It inspired her to begin keeping her own journal, which God has used in her life and the lives of others.

JWS Journal

Like this member of my small group, I have a treasure that was passed down from a deceased relative.  It is a satchel full of “important” papers from my Great-grandfather, John Wesley St. John.  He was a pastor, long ago.  Within this satchel is a collection of his sermons, all of them type-written.  In the margins and among the lines, there are hand-scrawled notes and comments.  I periodically pull these out and read them, not because they are particularly awe-inspiring in their depth and exegetical prowess.  No, I read them because they are part of a very personal story of a faithful God who continues to call His servants to proclaim the Living Word.  I find inspiration in the way he wrestled with a particular text and attempted to faithfully preach it to the people to whom God had called him.  I’m grateful that these have been preserved and have come into my hands.  One day, I hope they will be passed down to another.

The written word.  It’s an amazing gift that has been given to us.

This life we have been given.  It, too, is a gracious gift.  It is precious and meant to be shared, now and in the future.

Write your story.  God will use it.  Write it down!