Monday, August 31, 2015

How to Complicate Courtesy


“For before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision.”—Galatians 2:12 (NKJV)

We were thrilled to get the invitation. It was two of us from our South Florida church and we were traveling to South Sudan to serve at a Bible training center. We drove through a dangerous, rebel-patrolled region in northern Uganda, crossed the border into war-torn South Sudan, and prepared to teach pastors at facilities that didn’t even have electricity or running water. My partner and I were more disoriented and out of our element than we had ever been in our lives.

After a couple of days of teaching in a classroom where temperatures exceeded 100 degrees, some of our new friends invited us into their home for a meal. We sat on the cool floor of a hut built from mud bricks, sipped tea, talked, laughed, and shared food from a common bowl. We were overwhelmed with the kindness and courtesy of the Sudanese. I couldn’t believe I was sitting on the floor of a mud hut in Sudan in the middle of a war. And even so, I was among brothers.

Something similar was happening in Galatians 2. Peter was sitting with non-Jewish followers of Jesus in the city of Antioch. According to Acts 11:26, this is the place where followers of Jesus were first called “Christians” or more literally “Messiah people.” Whether Jew or Greek, it was in Antioch that racial and cultural barriers were worn thin enough to sit at a table and eat together from a common bowl. Jesus the Messiah had such an impact on people’s lives that change rippled throughout the city and Antioch’s citizens marveled.

Paul writes about his famous confrontation with Peter in this setting. When the church leaders rolled into town to see this phenomenon for themselves, Peter’s behavior flipped. With the Greeks, he was casual and gracious, but with the original church leaders, Peter suddenly forgot he was a Christian and became a traditional Jew. Paul took Peter to task for this and called him out as a play-actor­—a hypocrite.

When was Peter play-acting? When he was with the Gentiles or with the Jews? Peter’s brazen hypocrisy should rattle us much more than my original, uncomfortable narrative of genuine cross-cultural fellowship.

The truth is, when we’re in Christ, we must be who we are. No masks or makeup are needed in the Kingdom.

This Daily Devotional was originally published at www.CalvaryFTL.org/DailyDevo

Monday, August 24, 2015

Three Ways to STAND Like a Man



Peter Akech is one of the bravest, faith-filled, godly men I’ve ever met. We worked together during South Sudan’s civil war with the government of Sudan, on a team of missionaries training men to be chaplains in the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army.

Peter has led hundreds of men to the Lord while bullets whizzed overhead, ordnance exploded, and men lay dying in his arms. Military chaplains, in accordance with the Geneva Convention, are internationally recognized as noncombatants. The only thing he ever armed himself with was a smooth wooden cross that he carried as a staff or wore in his belt like a small sword, a symbol of his faith and his mission.

One day the unit he was attached to came under heavy artillery fire. Peter took cover in a foxhole, which is less like a ditch you’d see in war movie and more like a burrow tunneled into the ground. When Peter got all the way into the hole, he found himself face-to-face with a king cobra ready to strike. Peter spoke to the snake. There was only one thing that needed to be said: “My friend, today one of us is going die.”

That’s it. Peter had to stand and fight, or die. There was no third option. No compromise. No negotiation. No way to come out of the hole as comrades. Only one came out of the foxhole alive. One went on to do more ministry, the other was turned into a handsome pair of cowboy boots.

“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.”—1 Corinthians 16:13-14 (ESV)

This verse is delivered in an ascending order, the way a platoon leader barks commands to one of his soldiers. Watch. Stand. Be a man. Use all your strength to hold the line. When you do this enough, it becomes second nature, and when you crawl into a hole with snake—while never under-estimated—the snake loses.

As men, we’re built to stand firm. It comes to us naturally. Where we need some training are in the causes or issues we stand on. Who are we standing against? Who are we standing with? How do we stand? These are the questions we wrestle with. So many voices contend for our attention and we’re not able to take the time to intentionally align our priorities with Christ—the One who created and commissioned us to represent Him in His world.

Stand against the schemes of the devil (Ephesians 6:11)
One of the things I know about Peter Akech is he’s a soldier, and a soldier never has the full picture. He doesn’t know what the overall battle strategy is. Generals formulate strategy. The man on the ground is ordered to hold the line where his feet are planted. If he does his job well, the enemy won’t breach there. The line you hold could very well be the moment in the war where the tide turns.

Stand mature (Colossians 4:12)
Believe it or not, maturity takes strength. It’s not the kind of strength that comes from a surge of adrenaline; it’s the strength that comes from building muscle over a period of time and in a disciplined, useful way. There’s power, purpose, confidence, and experience that comes from steady, intentional, repeated application. This needs to start today—it’s how maturity is developed. There’s too much at stake to put it off any longer.

Stand and support your brothers (2 Timothy 4:16)
Stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the men who’ve poured into you and the men you’re pouring into. There is no doing this on your own. There’s no success and no celebration when you go alone or without support. If you don’t position yourself in a place to support others, you leave your brother, who you love, exposed.

When I played football in high school, we used to watch these 8mm films of our opponents. There was one time when we watched the other team’s running back make an amazing play. It was beautiful. This kid put a move on one guy, stood hard and planted his feet, juked him, and then JUMPED OVER THE LINE MEN as they missed the tackle. We watched this play over and over until we understood what our opponent was capable of.

We had to memorize that kids number. Number 34. Robbie Harrison. I’ve never forgotten what that kid was capable of.

I never forgot that kid’s number. Number 34.

That was more than twenty years ago.

You have an opponent that knows your number. He’s watching every move you make and devising a game plan to counter your strengths, find the places where you’re soft, and take you down in a way that is painful and public. Don’t let him succeed.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Twenty-nine Years with the Perfect Person



I cannot live, I can't breathe
Unless you do this with me
”The Adventure” -- Angels and Airwaves


You only get to do life once. I’m doing life with the perfect person.

Twenty-nine years ago tomorrow (Aug 23), I married the Charming and Beautiful Susan​. According to my father, God gave me this woman to tame me. That has been a tall order. Every single day I can’t wait to come home to be with this woman to share every part of my life with her.

I’ll never forget meeting her. All my buddies were after her. Somehow I convinced her to climb onto the back of my motorcycle for a ride to the beach. That was our first date. Impromptu. Unplanned.

I inadvertently parked my Suzuki in a tow away zone on the beach on A1A in Fort Lauderdale across the street from the Elbow Room. My bike got towed and we were stranded.

That was the first time I kissed her. The memory makes me dizzy and a little giddy. Who cares if my bike got towed. Keep it. This hot girl was letting me in close enough for a long kiss. The first of many. Impromptu. Unplanned.

This is the first memory I made with this woman. She was nineteen. I was twenty. I was on the beach in October in Florida. I was euphoric. Eight months later, we were married. That was twenty-nine years ago today.

God blessed our marriage with two beautiful children, Charity​ first, then Aaron Mondok​. And then, through their lives, new relationships and wonderful additions have been made to our family. We've adopted Allie, added Shana​ and Nicole​ to our tribe. Mackenzie Rae and Cora Love have been blessed arrivals and we look forward to more. Charity, Nicole, Aaron, Shana, Allie, Mackenzie, Cora: Susan and I love you all more than you can imagine and are so thankful for you lives. You have enriched our lives so much and are so glad that you all are part of our journey.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Proverb’s Three Characters



The book of Proverbs is one of the most practical and easy to apply books in the Bible. Throughout the book's 31 chapters, there are three obvious characters featured throughout the book of Proverbs:
  • the wise
  • the fool
  • the simple

The wise
  • embraces God’s covenant
  • makes good progress
  • is an example worth following
The fool
  • is opposed to God’s covenant
  • moves freely among God’s people
  • resists offer of forgiveness
  • is dangerous in his influences
  • is the cause of grief to his parents
  • not beyond hope
The simple
  • not firmly committed
  • easily misled
  • does not apply himself to discipline
Even as we read through these lists, we can picture people that we've known throughout our lives that possess the attributes listed in each of these three categories. Maybe as you evaluate your own life in light of these categories, you see some things that describe you in different categories. Maybe you embrace God's covenant (wise) but you're easily misled (simple). Adjustments need to be made. Be diligent to get to know this book. The Proverbs begs it's readers to search its pages thoroughly and wrestle with the questions that are raised.

Go explore.

Friday, August 07, 2015

How to Navigate Evil, Justice, and Love

“It is a joy for the just to do justice, but destruction will come to the workers of iniquity.”—Proverbs 21:15 (NKJV)

When someone hurts me, I think about evil, but talk myself into calling it “justice.” We all have an inborn longing for justice, but evil is much more present in us than we’d like to admit. Evil runs through us all like creeping vines in an untended garden.

Pain and life’s hurts cause me to forget what is valued, beautiful, and spiritual, especially when consumed by evil’s clinging, insatiable tentacles. While I should be sleeping, I lie awake and think about how to exact violent revenge and get away with it. My evil looks so delicious when I rehearse it in my mind on my bed; convincing myself it’s justice.

Love overpowers evil. Love is radical, but cannot be fully realized until evil is completely exposed. Jesus Christ proved this on the cross when, as He was abused, was heard saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34 ESV).

Evil has an inferiority complex and hates love. Like cancer, evil steals nutrients from its host.
Love heals and forgives and sets things right without destroying. The only victim of love is evil. The intention of God expressed from Genesis through Revelation is to set the whole world right. All of creation is crying out for this, and this is part of the Christian task: “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:17 ESV).

New life in the Spirit produces a radical transformation of behavior in people that results in making things right. You get to work with God through the Spirit of Jesus to set things right. This is in your power. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the world is a lost cause, throw your hands in the air, and retreat into your own private faith.

When Christians protect the widow, correct oppression, and care for the fatherless, they’re bringing the new world God has planned for our future right here into the present. That is justice. Since this is God’s ultimate plan for creation, this is what we are working to do now. We are ambassadors of a world where injustice will never exist. Since we believe that, let’s live that way now.

This Daily Devotional was originally published at www.CalvaryFTL.org/DailyDevo

Monday, August 03, 2015

How to Pray Through Adversity and Inconvenience


Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days.”—Daniel 6:10 (NKJV)

I struggle with something I’m a little ashamed to admit. Sometimes, I have a really hard time praying through adversity. That’s painful to say, especially because I’ve been a follower of Jesus for a few decades. I hope it is not the same for you.

Not so with Daniel. Daniel was a believer, a wise leader, and a target. His mission in life was to serve his God and his king, in that order. He served both well. He had no skeletons in his closet. He was humble, and this kept him moving up the ladder, no matter who was king. His humility, his upward mobility, and his holy habits made him the target of his political and professional rivals.

Daniel’s rivals worked hard to find fault. The one “sin” they sniffed out was Daniel’s habitual conversation with Jehovah God. He made time several times a day to get on his knees while facing Jerusalem, the City of Peace his heart longed for, and stay connected to his God. His opponents, through political maneuvering and manipulation, successfully criminalized prayer to anyone but the king of the Medo-Persian Empire, who had conquered Babylon during Daniel’s time there. Violation of this law carried the death penalty. The violator was thrown to hungry lions.

Even in times of adversity and inconvenience, Daniel courageously lived up to the Hebrew definition of his name, God is my judge, by aligning all of his priorities around it. Daniel learned early in life that you become what you worship. You could watch Daniel live his life and easily list all of the attributes of God that had saturated his character. If the king said, “I need a man that is wise, discerning, intelligent, compassionate, unwavering in his character, and courageous,” the obvious answer was, “Daniel’s your guy.”

If prayer were taken away from you, would you miss it? Or is prayer and worship such a habit in your life that you would do it no matter what? As privileged as Daniel was, from a young age he learned to opt out of all of the material things culture told him were necessities. He knew they were distractions and noise. What Daniel needed was God. What do you need?

This Daily Devotional was originally published at www.CalvaryFTL.org/DailyDevo

Friday, July 31, 2015

What it means to collaborate



Collaboration is a buzzword. This is a good thing, but difficult when we're so conditioned to doing what ever it takes to climb social and corporate ladders in our careers. In order to do this, we have to compete and distinguish ourselves, often at the expense of our coworkers. Our personal interests are in direct conflict with collaborating well with others. What if somebody's idea is picked over mine? What if somebody else gets the promotion? What if the team I'm collaborating with has lazy, unproductive members? What if people expect me to carry them and I end up doing all their work? How will I get proper credit? How will I distinguish myself?

Those are the mental gymnastics I go through.

I looked up a couple of a couple definitions:
  • col·lab·o·rate: work jointly on an activity, especially to produce or create something. 
synonyms: co-operate, join forces, team up, band together, work together, participate, combine, ally;

I noticed that the word "co-labor" is embedded in the word "collaborate".

Here's another definition:
  • dis·tin·guish: recognize or treat (someone or something) as different.
synonyms: differentiate, tell apart, discriminate between, tell the difference between

This describes me better the "collaborate" does. Distinguish has always been my instinct. I want to distinguish me from you. I want everyone to know that I'm better than you. I want them, especially the bosses, to know that I'm smarter, more creative, and more innovative. I've noticed that when people see this in me—and they do because no matter how hard I try, I can't hide these attitudes—they are not very motivated to collaborate with me and the only reason they do is because someone higher up the food chain makes them. But there's a short shelf-life on these attitudes if collaboration is becoming your culture. You'll only be able to fake it for so long before you're the one left standing without a chair when the music stops.

If you want to distinguish yourself, distinguish yourself by being known as the guy or gal most willing to collaborate with others. Empower people, give decision making authority away, celebrate the accomplishments and ideas of others. Be the problem solver in the group. Be the one who gets those random, impossible ideas executed. Celebrate the accomplishments of others rather than yourself. How refreshing would that be? How great would it be to work with you?

Go be awesome.