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Praying for Grandchildren – Pt. 1

This last Saturday, I was given the privilege of speaking at a missions camp just outside of Vittoria, Italy.  They gave me two 45-minute sessions, one for a Biblical teaching, and another to introduce our ministry work.  There were about 50 or 60 people in attendance, mostly younger people from around Europe, including Italy, France, Germany, and Sweden.  We even had the great opportunity to meet some people from Pakistan who are doing great work here in Europe.

I thought that it would be a good idea to write down the main points that I spoke about and post them for future reference.

On Thursday morning, our family drove down to Vittoria, in the southern part of Sicily, where we found Camp Bethel.  It is a nice camp with great facilities, including bunk houses, bathrooms and showers, kitchen, meeting space, pools, a small soccer field, and a nice open grassy area for various activities.  The camp was full, so we took three tents with us to accommodate the six people in our family and made our first camping trip in Italy.  It was at the end of July, and it has been hot, so I was expecting to be sweating while sleeping, but the weather turned out to be great at night.  The only rain that we had to worry about was with the camp’s sprinkler system and the heat abated in the evening, making the sleeping comfortable.

As we entered the camp on Thursday morning, the participants were starting their first time of praise and worship for the day.  Walking into the session, I began to think more about what I would say to the group on Saturday morning and sensed that I should share the idea of working alongside, and partnering with, people that don’t really look like, sound like, or think like “us”.  When I say “us”, I was thinking about the generally-white Europeans, along with “us”, the one American family in the room.  Instead, I had a vision in my mind of a mission camp meeting like this in the future that was full of Africans, Far-Easterners, Middle-Easterners, and others sitting alongside Europeans and Americans, truly representing the populations that we were wanting to see become part of the expression of the Kingdom of God here in Italy.

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A time of prayer for one another in small groups at the camp.

As I sat down, I began to think of Romans 16 and the greetings that Paul gives to the church in Rome.  As I opened it, I read the first few verses and greetings:

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.

Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.

Greet also the church that meets at their house.

Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia.

Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you.

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me.They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.

Greet Ampliatus, my dear friend in the Lord.

Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys.

10 Greet Apelles, whose fidelity to Christ has stood the test.

Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus.

11 Greet Herodion, my fellow Jew.

Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord.

12 Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord.

Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord.

13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.

14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the other brothers and sisters with them.

15 Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the Lord’s people who are with them.

16 Greet one another with a holy kiss.

All the churches of Christ send greetings.

As I read this, I began to realize that these people that Paul was greeting were some of the same people that I had been reading about in the book of Acts.  Through his missionary journeys, Paul had gone throughout the areas of Galatia, through Asia, into Corinth and Athens and had sowed seeds of the Gospel, made disciples, and left behind churches.

Now, in this last chapter of Romans, we see that several of these people that he was working with in those areas have, for some reason, moved on to Rome.  They have become disciples and are now workers in the church, or possibly churches, in Rome.

Sitting there in the first session, I was thinking of how great of a legacy and testimony that this represents!  These are workers in the Kingdom of God that have come from being non-believers to not only believing, but who themselves are becoming fruitful by making disciples, even going on to live and work separately from Paul.  Paul discipled and trained them well enough to become workers within the Kingdom themselves.

I can’t imagine that we will ever do it as well as the Apostle Paul, but I certainly do believe that this is the fruit that we hope to see from our work.  We want to start to pray now for our spiritual children who will become workers like those that Paul is greeting here.  Even more, as we will see what Jesus taught us to do, we want to pray and work to see spiritual grandchildren so that the work of making disciples of Jesus will continue generation after generation.  Like those that Paul is greeting here, I believe that this is a vision of the future impact of our work and the legacy that we can leave behind.

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Centro Agape Before and After Pictures

At the inaugural ceremonies on Saturday, Marco showed a few Before and After pictures that I thought would be good to share as well.  Even these Before pictures show the building after tons (literally!) of the trash inside had been removed, so it is difficult to get a true picture of the scale of work that our partners have accomplished, but hopefully this is a peek into the work that was done.

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Outside of the building before.  Major water damage, fascia damage, and bad windows and doors.

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Restored exterior, no more water damage!

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Bathrooms before and after (the Afer picture is in the “almost complete” stage

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Two large upstairs rooms.  Can anyone say mooooolllllllddddddd?

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Large upstairs rooms after restoration

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Halways and bathrooms before

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And now…

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The large room downstairs.  Missing from this picture is the floor-to-ceiling filing cabinets full of dusty old social records and dead animals.

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Downstairs meeting room when nearly complete

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Centro Agape Opening Ceremonies

This last Saturday, our Italian partners, working together as one organization called Missione Agape, coming together from nine different churches, opened a new Community Center that will be available to people from the immediate community, children, immigrants, and many others.  We have worked to try to help make it a reality and are proud and excited for the work that they have done.  We are looking forward to seeing how this new facility can be used for great connection and training.

On Saturday, our partners held a morning ceremony for the public, media, and politicians, while then also having separate opening ceremonies in the evening for the people of the churches represented within Missione Agape.  Here are a few pictures from the day:

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Front of the building from the street.  The center is walled from the outside with a small parking area in the front.

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Large meeting (and eating!) room in the lower section of the building.

 

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First large activity room upstairs

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Second large activity room upstairs

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Walking and talking flower garden path behind the center

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Basketball / volleyball / soccer court

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Community garden area

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Storage!

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New bathrooms and showers

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Inaugural ceremonies!

There is still a lot of work to be done, but it is a start and there are new activities that we will be starting here very soon.  Looking forward to reporting more on how God will use this new Center!

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The Father’s Heart – Part 1

God, as our Heavenly Father, has a heart that loves and beats for each of us.  From the day that Adam and Eve disobeyed God, he has been working to provide us redemption and bring us back to himself.  God is, himself, our redeemer.

God plan culminated in Jesus, who was sent to earth to announce and demonstrate a new kingdom that would be placed here on the earth.  It is God’s kingdom.  By coming to earth, Jesus established God’s kingdom and then took on the burden of providing for us by being a sacrifice for us for our sins.  Before Abraham sacrificed the ram instead of his son Isaac, Abraham told Isaac that God will provide the sacrifice.  In the same way, God provided Jesus, the visible form of God himself as the sacrifice for our sins.

So by coming to earth and dwelling with us, and then becoming the sacrifice for our sins, Jesus established the kingdom of God here on earth.  This kingdom isn’t a geographical location or a political nation like a kingdom built by men.  Instead, it is a group of people who look to God as the king and ruler of their lives.  They willingly give their allegiance and obedience to God, receiving Jesus’s sacrifice in faith for the forgiveness of their sins, and live their lives as ambassadors of this kingdom for the purpose of seeing others become subjects to that same kingdom.

As Jesus was teaching the people, he spoke to them about how they should pray.  He told them:

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Matthew 6:9-10

Jesus goes on with his teaching of prayer, but it is an astonishing start because it lays the groundwork for how God thinks about people.  Here are the parts of the prayer that I find so amazing:

  • God is our Father.  He is in heaven, not here on earth, but he is our Father.
  • He says that we should both recognize and call out the holiness of God in worship.
  • We should pray for real change.  God has a kingdom and we should pray for it to come and spread out across the earth.
  • And how will we know that the kingdom has come?  When God’s will is done here on earth in the same way that it is here in heaven.

What would that look like, that God’s will is done here on earth, just as it is in heaven?  What would be different?  What would be different in my own life?  What would be different in the world that I live in every day?  What would the TV news look like if God’s will were done here on earth just as it is in heaven?  Wow, what an amazing change that would be!

This is the first thing that Jesus teaches when he teaches us to pray.  God himself is on a mission to see his kingdom, consisting of his rule and reign, done here on earth, and so I believe that we can say that this is foundational in understanding the Father’s heart for his people.

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Living Under a Curse?

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to give a short Christmas devotional talk at a center for refugees near where we live.  I accepted and decided to keep it simple and just tell the Creation to Christ story as a way to explain why it is important that Jesus came to earth, and therefore why celebrating Christmas is so important.  You can see that story here:

As I was coming to the end, because I was speaking as a guest, I thought I would just end the talk, pray, and be finished for the day.  However, at the end, another friend of mine who had come with me that day spoke up and suggested that we should take questions as we had both Christians and Muslims with us and some people may wonder about parts of the story.

The first question that came up was what Adam’s sin has to do with my sin.  It is the first part of the story in the Creation to Christ story, so this man wondered why it mattered that Adam’s is part of the story.

The discussion that ensued, and even continued in a subsequent visit to the center yesterday, left me thinking about the precision of what the Bible says and what I understand and believe related to that very question.  What does Adam’s sin have to do with me?

At the time, I answered the question this way:

  1. Obviously, Adam’s sin of eating the fruit from a tree in a garden is not my sin.
  2. But in the same way that Adam made a decision to walk away from God and do his own thing, aside from what God want me to do, I do the same.  I disobey God on a regular basis, choosing my own way instead of God’s way.
  3. Regardless of how you think about the nature of Adam’s sin and its connection to us today, the effect is the same.  God cannot abide with sin.  This is why Adam and Eve were punished and needed to be sent out of the garden, and this is the same reason that our sins are also punished and we are separated from God because of our sins.

There was a subsequent conversation about how the curse that God placed on Adam and Eve affects us to this day, and in later reports that I heard yesterday, it sounds like this was understood better, especially by some of the Muslim friends that were there that day, but the more that I’ve been thinking about this, the more that I’m wondering if this curse that God placed on Adam and Eve actually is directly related to the nature of our sin or not.

So, this post should probably be a really long one, primarily intended to help me think through my own understanding about how Adam’s sin relates to me today.  But I think that I am going to need to break this up into at least two posts, possibly more.  Also, I want to say that I think that #3 above remains true regardless of the outcome and whether or not you agree with any of the conclusions that I might come to here.  In the end, I think that most of this may be academic because the result is ultimately the same.  Whether my sin is based on something that I inherited from a curse and it was not theoretically possible for me to live a perfect life as Jesus did, or whether it is just the nature of being a human and like Adam I make my own decisions and willingly rebel against God through my sin, I have still sinned and still need forgiveness and mercy from God!

My primary question at this point is whether or not the curse from God is the reason that I am considered a sinner before God.  When God administered punishment to Adam and Eve, he said to them:

16 To the woman he said,

“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
    with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
    and he will rule over you.”

17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”

Genesis 3:16-19

So, I think that if you believe that our sin today is a result of the curse from God, I think that this is the nature of where that would come from since this is the curse that God pronounced.  But the difficulty that I have here is that I don’t see something here that is related to sin coming from Adam, at least here in the pronouncement of the curse.  I see pain, authority, work, sweat, and death as the result of the curse, but I don’t see a pronouncement of guilt for all humans, at least not here.

As a result, at least from what I see here, I’m not sure that it is right to say that we live under a curse from God.  So far, that idea doesn’t really make sense to me.  I will pick up on some other scriptures soon, though, that I think should help fill this out further.

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Ishmael and Isaac

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I recently read the story of Abraham’s sacrifice with a friend of mine.  I think he liked the story, but the main question that he asked was if it was possible to read the story and understand more about Ishmael and Isaac, Abraham’s sons.  He wondered this because his faith traces it’s lineage back to Ishmael and he had always heard that Abraham went to sacrifice Ishmael, not Isaac.  He also saw that Genesis recorded the story by saying that Isaac was Abraham’s only son, so he was confused by what that meant.

Yesterday, we read those stories together, reading about the birth of Ishmael, the blessing and covenant plans from God, and the birth of Isaac.  My friend was clearly trying to understand everything and its meaning, but as we talked through the story, he was clearly enjoying learning the foundations and having a better understanding.  We decided that the primary difference between Ishmael and Isaac, in terms of their standing before God, is the covenant that God made with Isaac.  So we decided that our next step is to understand what this meant and the implications of this covenant.

In preparation for our time together, I did some additional reading and came across a very interesting post at p2alm.com where they quote from a man named Joel Richardson.  You can read the entirety of the post, but here is my favorite part, which attempts to help provide intellectual, spiritual, and emotional context for the origins of Islam:

So we read these things and they’re interesting Bible stories but what I’m asking you to do is to put yourself in the position and recognize the fact that in history, in real time, this was a real boy… with real emotions, with a real life. This happened to a little kid named Ishmael. And so what we need to understand is you have this little boy and… he had a dad. He had a mother. He had a family. He had a life. He had an inheritance. And in one day he loses all of these things. He loses his dad. He loses his inheritance. He’s out in the desert. He’s on his own.

The post continues by saying that the effects of Ishmael being sent away by Abraham, by his father, have trickled down to others.  The eventual nature of the relationship that Ishmael had with his father Abraham was seemingly transferred to the way that he saw God.  And even with people I meet today from a Muslim background seem to consider God as far away and somewhat aloof, uncaring for the specifics of an individual’s life.  We can imagine that this is how Ishmael may have felt about Abraham, and it is possible that those emotions could then be transferred onto how he may have felt about God.

There are certainly many interesting implications and lessons to be learned here.  The article referenced above, of course, talks about this situation between Ishmael and Isaac as the root of the Middle Eastern conflict that we see today, so that is certainly one very large implication.

But if this analysis is true, there are also very real implications for us as fathers to consider as well.  As a father to my children, I can have a very real effect on how my kids view God.  Will they see God as an authoritarian?  As aloof and uncaring?  As someone who rejects them?  Or could I influence them to see God rightly, as a loving Father who loves his children, who judges rightly but also extends mercy.  What a big responsibility that fathers carry if this is true!

God, I pray that you will help me to learn the lesson from this story and not repeat the mistakes that have been made, mistakes that may have started some of the greatest conflicts in history.  God, help me to love my children and be a blessing to each of them, encouraging them to go on and bless many others.  God, despite our backgrounds and how our fathers may have succeeded or failed, I pray that both my children and friends will know you as a loving Father who wants what is best for his children.  God, please help us as we try to hear from you and follow you.

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The Beginning of the Relationship Between God and Man

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

Genesis 1:27-30

I picked this scripture today out of the totality of the passages I was reading because it describes the very first interaction that we see between God and man.  Here are a few things that I notice from this passage:

  • God has created mankind from his own image.  How incredible is that?!  I see here that there is an immediate connection that God creates to man, presumably so that man will recognize God as God, precisely because man is made in the image of God.
  • God created male and female.  Beyond the connection between God and mankind, I see that God builds another partnership connection directly into mankind by creating man and woman who need each other.
  • They are blessed and immediately given a mission to be fruitful and increase in number across the face of the earth.
  • They are also intended to both rule over the animals of the earth and, along with the animals, to eat each of the plants that God made for food.

As I look at this, I think the biggest part that stands out to me is how God created mankind in his own image.  I’m not sure what could be more telling of God’s intention.  He must want people to know him and to show him to others!  Why else would he make people in his own image?

I did a little looking around at some articles and videos online to help further the explanation of God making man in his own image and there are several good resources out there, including some videos from some of my favorites like John Piper and N.T. Wright, but I also found this animated video from The Bible Project that I thought was good at also explaining how people being made in the image of God also points to Jesus.  I think it is worth a couple of minutes to watch, so you can see it here:

The conclusion of the video actually gets to the outcome and application of what I am thinking about relative to these verses today.  God has made me in his image, which is an incredible thing, but I am good at messing it up and walking away from God on a regular basis, disobeying him on a regular basis.  My desire is to bear the image of God as a king and a ruler in the way that God originally designed.  As the video shows, though, I have to restore my life as a servant and in submission to God, following Jesus’s example and allowing God’s Spirit to work through me.

Yesterday, some friends of mine visited here at our home.  They were asking how we would characterize 2017 and what our hopes were for 2018.  In continuing to think about this, I think my hope is simple.  To allow God’s Spirit to dwell in me and to follow Jesus.  This doesn’t come easily and requires some work and discipline in the reading of scripture, being still and listening to God, and then walking out what he is teaching me on a daily basis, but in the times that I have experienced this, I have known that it is worth it.  There are radical implications for living as an image bearer of God, but it is exactly what God made me to be.

God, will you help me to live according to your Word.  I ask that you help me to understand the story that you are telling and to follow you.  Spirit of God, will you work deeply inside of me, removing everything that has been placed there that is not originally from you, cleansing all of those things that are unclean through the blood of Jesus.  God, I pray that you will lead me and those around me to rule as you have designed.  Thank you Father for the life that you have given me and I pray that many others will understand and follow this life as well!

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