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Monday, June 25, 2012

The Viral Gospel

“Going viral” has entered the English language. The term used to refer to communicable diseases, the kinds that are so easily transmitted that they can rapidly escalate into an epidemic. But, in our day, it means something quite different. With the aid of the Internet, email, Twitter, Facebook, text messaging and You Tube, what was anonymous or obscure can "go viral" and become suddenly famous.

Most of us are familiar with the movie, The Social Network, that chronicles, in Hollywood fashion, how Facebook went viral from Mark Zuckerberg’s dorm room at Harvard. A website designed to use the internet as social media, Facebook itself “went viral.” When Facebook went public in May, it was valued at $14 billion and sold 82 million shares in the first thirty seconds. At that time, there were 900 million Facebook subscribers. It has become one of the most powerful tools on the internet to catapult others into the “viral” stratosphere.

When Susan Boyle stepped onto the stage at Britain’s Got Talent April 11, 2009, she was unknown and unemployed, living alone with her cat in the flat where her mother raised her. Her frumpy attire drew snickers and laughter from the judges and the audience until she began to sing I Have A Dream from Les Miserables. When she sang, everything changed. The video of her performance “went viral” on the internet and, within nine days was viewed 100 million times. She is now an established star.

“Going viral” appears to be a twenty-first century phenomenon. But is it?

History documents that the Gospel went viral following the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. There was no media campaign. There were no reporters, no cameras, no photo ops, no internet, no Facebook. But somehow, Jesus impacted and changed the world. Growing up in the obscure and infamous village of Nazareth, Jesus’ public ministry lasted only three years. He walked wherever he went and never traveled more than one hundred miles from his birth place. When He was crucified, there were no papers to report it, no news teams to film it. But the news spread around the world and is continuing to spread today. It did so by “going viral.”

Paul spoke of.”the gospel which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth.” (Colossians1:6). And again, “For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.” 2 Cor 4:15, “I thank my God through Jesus Christ … because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.: (Romans 1:8).

When the Gospel goes viral, it requires more than posting a few sentences or a video clip on the intenet, more than “clicking” and forwarding information. The Kingdom of God goes viral when lives are transformed by faith in Jesus Christ so that society is saturated with honesty, integrity, justice and generosity. Changed lives change the lives of those around them.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Celebrating Diversity

We are all different. In the way we look, the way we talk, the way we think. This is especially clear in Nuremberg where we are spending the summer. Last week we attended an African Festival that packed the park. African music echoed through the trees; strange fragrances drifted on the breeze; multiple ethnicities melted into the crowd. The major cities of the world are cosmopolitan. More than 90 languages are spoken in Houston. In Dallas, every ethnicity is a minority, including Anglo.

Last week, I left my wife in the lobby of the theater while I went off to secure a video rental. When I returned she had struck up a conversation with a young man with several days growth of beard. He was from Algiers, working as a chef at a Cuban restaurant in Nuremberg. Later, when traveling on the bus trying to find the Ikea store, we encountered a helpful woman who led us to our destination. She spoke fluent English, lives one month of the year in Nuremberg and the rest in India, though she recently spent three months in China.

God must like difference and diversity. There is so much of it. If we all looked alike, spoke alike and thought alike, it would be a boring and shallow world. God has splashed His creation with rich and wondrous diversity, from the fish of the sea and the stars in the heavens to the people of the earth.

Why is it, then, that we are so prone to make other people conform to our own way of life? Why do we feel it necessary to argue until others adopt our point of view? Why do we want them to dress like us, look like us and talk like us? What should a Christian look like?

It seems to me that most Christians think other Christians should look like they look. But they don’t. I am reminded of a visit I made several years ago to the Harley Davidson Factory in Kansas City. A young man stood up to address the group and introduced himself as a disciple of Jesus Christ disguised as an executive at Harley Davidson. Disciples of Jesus Christ come disguised in the clothing and customs of every culture on the globe.

Like our 21st century world, first century Rome was an empire of wide cultural diversity. Writing to Christians who lived in this diverse cultural context, the Apostle Paul gave these instructions: “The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.” And “One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.”

Paul’s instructions for living in a diverse world have two primary threads. First, be willing to accept different customs and cultures without judging them. Second, live out your faith in Christ so that you are consistent with your conscience and seek the best interest of others.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Finding God as Father

This week, Americans will pause to honor their fathers. Germany, where we are spending the summer, did so a few weeks ago. Every nation and every culture recognizes the important role of fathers in the life of children.

As a twelve-year-old boy, Jesus rewrote everything we ever thought about fathers and everything we think about God. He had returned to Jerusalem with his parents to observe the Passover as was their custom. The Passover was a family event. Relatives and friends traveled in caravans from Nazareth to Jerusalem once a year to visit with distant relatives and observe this significant historic Jewish custom. When the group started their journey home, they were struck with the horror of a missing child. Jesus had been left behind on the streets of the capital city.

Mary and Joseph left the returning caravan and traveled a full day’s journey back to Jerusalem to find him. After three days of anguish, they found him in the Temple engaged in discussion with the religious leaders. Hardly able to control her emotions, Mary asked him, “Son, why have you treated us this way? Don’t you know your father and I have been anxiously looking for you?” His response shocked her. He said. “Did you not know I must be about the things of my Father?” Mary and Joseph did not understand what he was talking about. (Luke 2: 41-52) The reason for Mary and Joseph’s confusion is rather simple. They had never thought of God as Father. Like all faithful Jews, they considered God too holy for his name to be pronounced. Only the priest could approach God in the holy of holies and that only once a year.

This became a dominant theme in Jesus’ ministry. He revolutionized prayer by teaching us to pray, “Our Father who art in Heaven” and encouraged us to bring all our requests to God saying, “Which one of you if your son asks for an egg will give him a stone, or for a fish will give him a snake? If you being evil know how to give good things to your children, how much more will your Father which is in Heaven give what is good to you.” "Take no thought saying what shall we eat? or what shall we drink? or wherewithal shall we be clothed? For your Heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things ..." "It is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." "I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me." With his final breath upon the cross, Jesus said, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” From his first recorded words to his last, Jesus redefined God as our Father.

Faith takes on an entirely different dimension when we discover God as Father. He is more than a theological or philosophical concept to be debated. He wants to know us, love us and transform our lives forever.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Every Nation

I am writing this week from Nuremberg, Germany where my wife and I are serving an English speaking church for the summer. We are surrounded with history, culture and beauty. The church is composed of remarkable people from Germany, Ireland, England, Romania, Ukraine, China, Cameroon, India, Sweden, Austria and others. Most are in their twenties and thirties.

This church reminds me that Jesus Christ was sent for all people of every nation in every age. When God called Abraham, He promised to make him a blessing to all the nations. Isaiah said, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations.” (Isa. 42:1) And again, “The LORD will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.” (Isa. 52:10) Those promises are fulfilled in Jesus.

The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost reflects the fact that Jesus came for everyone. Shortly after His resurrection, many people gathered in Jerusalem from many nations, and they all heard the message of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection in their own language. “Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” (Acts 2)

When John saw the vision that he recorded in Revelation, he declared, “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

Clearly, God wants people from every nation to experience His salvation in Jesus Christ. To accomplish this purpose, God is moving people all around the world and exposing them to opportunities to hear the gospel. According to a recent study by Lousanne World Pulse, Christianity as a whole is growing faster than the global population with the fastest growth in Asia and Eastern Europe. We are living in one of the most exciting eras of human history, when more people are discovering faith in Christ from all over the world than ever before.

A few years ago our daughter went on a mission trip to Andhra Pradesh in India. At the same time I visited Lubbock, Texas. When I checked into the hotel, the clerk who greeted me was from Andhra Pradesh.

Whether we are in Dallas, Houston, Lubbock or Nuremberg, Germany, every believer needs to reach out to international visitors around them, to welcome them, to love them, and to share with them the life-changing difference Jesus Christ makes in our lives.