Challenging believers in Jesus to think and act based on Bible truth.

A Lived Witness

Today guest blogger Joe Tucker shares some wise thoughts. Joe is the executive director at Akron’s South Street Ministries. Check out their website and all they do to influence for Christ. Joe is married and the father of a young son. Enjoy this thoughtful challenge!

A Lived Witness

We recently had a minor theological tussle at the Front Porch Café in South Akron. One patron donated a piece of artwork with the St. Francis quote, “Preach the Gospel Always, Use Words When Necessary.” This patron loves Jesus, has a broad theology, and values those who ‘do.’

His donation incited another friend of the ministry to donate an opposing piece of religious art with a verse from John 3:16 on it. This alternative donor subscribes deeply to the evangelical faith, visits the prisons weekly to minister, and genuinely encourages individuals to believe in Jesus.

I am not one for fruitless theological debates. The perceived issue that both of these patrons felt was the act of Christian witness and the differential between word and deed. For this blog today, thought driven action, I want to challenge that differential and move us to a lived witness.

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I visited a Kenmore church recently and ran into an old youth group leader of mine. This leader nostalgically recalled a mission trip we had taken together my sophomore year of high school to New York City to witness on the street. It was a challenge and uncomfortable, talking to strangers about faith and the afterlife.

I find myself much more comfortable sharing my faith today, because Jesus is narrative of my daily life, decisions, and actions. When a friend asks how I am doing, I can honestly answer, “I’m struggling right now, it’s been a tough week. I’ve been praying about it, but I feel distant from God.”

This honest answer, is often more inviting to a conversation than any of the apologetic strategies I learned on that mission trip years ago. When someone inquires how my family is, I can honestly reply, “My wife and I have been praying together more, and it has really helped deepen our relationship.” Again, I have found that by honestly citing what God is doing in my life, the door opens up for conversation around faith, God, and Jesus.

However, to enact this reality, we as Christ-followers actually have to live a life worthy of witness. The challenges I had in New York were connected to the reality that my life wasn’t an active witness. Now I can cite the many ways God is working in my life: the neighbor who I am trying to love better, the family member I am seeking reconciliation with, the systems of oppression I am learning about and moving to resist. All of these bear witness to the reality of God in my life, and we can share those witnesses with folks around us in both word and deed.

Project Shine 2016 – Awash In Provision

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Project Shine is a local missions organization in Akron, OH. You can visit the website here.

What follows represents some reflections of an amazing two week period of watching God do exactly what we believed He called us to do.

1. When God calls, He has plans.

I could easily give our organization a big pat on the back for obeying when God said to stretch our efforts from one week to two. Woe the day when obedience gains anyone recognition. What joy, though, when obedience glorifies God.

I’ve told the story many times: the Project Shine board voted to step out in faith and add a second week of ministry, a vote only made possible by many “yes” votes anticipating someone else would vote “no”. That’s right, we really thought others would vote no, so we just voted yes.

I remain grateful for Riverwood Church’s patience to explore God’s will together regarding the possibility of this second week. He planted the seeds for this week with their church years in advance.

God had big plans for big impact.

2. When God calls, God provides.

The list of ways God provided could stretch out into book chapter length. A few highlights:

  • More than enough work for over 90 teens and dozens of adults to complete over the course of two weeks.
  • A partnership with a local church we never saw coming, which included painting the exterior of their church.
  • A silent auction with less people in attendance than the previous year, yet a 40% higher yield in giving toward this year’s project.
  • Sacrificial leadership and service from our trustee board and from many present and past supporters of the ministry.
  • Great opportunities to minister to our residents. We truly built great relationships with many of the homeowners we served.
  • Servants with servant hearts. Sometimes putting a bunch of people together to accomplish something can prove frustrating as miscommunication and frustration set in. My memory of this year’s project will be flooded with memories of so many selfless volunteers who both executed the planning for the work weeks and got neck deep in helping the ministry come off almost entirely without a hitch.

3. Praising God for 15 summers!

Check out this snippet of God’s provision over the past 15 summers:

  • Part of the blessing for me personally involved seeing and reflecting on many people who have given so much in service to God through this organization in the past fifteen summers. Some examples:
  • Our two key second week cooks started as teens in the program.
  • One young man has had some role in all fifteen summers of Project Shine.
  • Many different churches and organizations have financially supported the work of Project Shine.
  • Some of the people who return to serve year after year have served well over half of the summers God has worked through Shine.
  • Some of our donors have had involvement with the organization since its inception. Many others have maintained long term supports.
  • God has used many great musicians and speakers through this ministry’s history. Hard to forget it all (and yes, I still get jokes about the first year).

4. Provision of personal encouragement.

Yes, Project Shine’s ministry encourages many who participate. But, this year encouraged me in some specific ways. See a few here:

  • It warmed me to see the sensitivity of several work crews toward their residents.
  • I truly believe God has opened up a partnership between Pastor Brandon File (of Akron’s Church of Deliverance) and me. I have no idea what that looks like, but He has brought us together revealing similar passion, love for our churches, and places in life. I look forward to learning from Pastor Brandon.
  • Hearing a teenager talk about how he learned to pray with a total stranger and had never really prayed with anyone really meant a lot. It excited me to see God using an experience in our neighborhood to shape this young man’s faith.
  • Project Shine increases my faith every single year. I do enjoy work which stretches my faith. Project Shine does that in different ways than I experience in pastoral ministry. To describe basic personal encouragement doesn’t fit the bill. God really provided a faith boost for me this year!
  • Witnessing the youth group from Riverwood drench each other with encouragement Friday night will stay with me for a long time. It provided a great thrill to know God brought that about through a shared experience!

I suppose I could go on and on. Praise God. That’s all I can really muster. I hope this has helped you understand Project Shine and understand God. But most of all, I hope this helps you praise God!

Tuesday Rambling 7.5.16 – The False Dilemma of Jesus vs. Patriotism

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Last week I looked at the false dilemma of King Jesus vs. King James. Today, rambling about another false dilemma: Jesus vs. Patriotism.

  • Has the believer who waves a flag, loves their country, respects the military, or sings a patriotic song in church traded God for country?
  • Some would say “yes”.
  • As a pastor, I respect people who hold to wide range of opinions or beliefs about the need for patriotism both in the local church and in the life of a believer.
  • Discernment of this issue, though, can’t stand on outward expressions alone: true allegiance lies in the heart.
  • The God of the Bible reveals salvation through Jesus Christ, and Him alone. Idolatry perverts that salvation, trusting in some other thing for the protection, comfort, and salvation only a true relationship with God brings.
  • So, if you trust more in the U.S. for your identity, belief, comfort, protection, and salvation, then you should smash that idol.
  • If in your heart you have more disgust at the fading of this once great nation than you do over the reality of lost sinners suffering forever in hell, repent and ask God to realign your affections.
  • A couple things worth testing regarding your heart and thought process:
  • First, wrestle with the true nature of the faith. The faith is global, multi-national (remember that “every tribe and tongue” part?). In this sense, any believer from a different country may endure confusion amidst a patriotic celebration in one of our churches.
  • Understanding the global nature of our faith can protect against idolatrous patriotism and enliven our prayer life for our brothers and sisters around the world.
  • Second, though, wrestle with the truth that no nation on earth matches the level of freedom and material blessing the U.S. has experienced for so long.
  • Is gratefulness for this reality such a bad thing? Is praying for freedom, prosperity, and sustained ability to promote the Gospel un-biblical at its core?
  • On one side, slapping an “idolatry” label on all patriotic expressions fails the balance test. Similarly, an “unpatriotic” label can’t accurately label those who prefer less nationalistic emphasis.
  • In sum, can patriotism blind believers from broader truths of Scripture and wider understanding of people groups? Absolutely.
  • Does a believer’s gratefulness for their nation’s history automatically turn them into an idolater? Not so.
  • Am I the judge of either? You and I both should praise God He stands alone as judge.
  • The right question: How would HE evaluate our hearts?

Monday Challenge 7.4.16 – Worship Expressions, Church on Vacation, Sin Vs. Mistake

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I hope you enjoy your holiday time off. Use these articles to challenge your thinking!

Worship Expressions

Here’s a way to think about expressions of worship.

Question: Can you look “through” others?

Church on Vacation

Do you attend church on vacation? Why or why not? This article provides some practical help.

Question: Does this article change the way you approach your vacation decisions?

Sin Vs. Mistake

How do you discern the difference? This article will help.

Question: What sins have you committed in the past 30 days for which you need to take responsibility?

Obituary

Have you heard of Elie Wiesel? He passed away recently. This obit will help you learn about someone of particular influence.

Question: What does this mean to you? How can someone else’s life help you?

Think and Act 2.10.16 – My Challenge As A Husband

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This Sunday, of course, brings us to the annual celebration of Valentine’s Day. This Sunday also doubles as our church’s marriage seminar, so marriage happens to have a spot in my mind right now.

The husband’s challenge? Well…seems as if a bunch of answers would fit, right?

How to get more time in the man cave, how to get full control of the remote, how to get his favorite meals.

Those would be punchlines.

Biblically, the husband’s challenge come straight out of I Peter 3:7:

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

This verse follows six verses of instruction to wives. Six verses to one doesn’t seem fair, but the verse to husbands packs quite the punch.

Some things which bring the husband’s task into focus:

1. Live in an understanding way.

This command demonstrates action on the part of the husband. Husbands – take action to understand your wives. We have no chance to lead our wives without taking action to understand them. Their past, their present, their struggles, their perspectives, their gifts: know it and seek to lead them in response.

I’m not saying lead in a sense that everything should revolve around the wife. But this command is far from just doing whatever you want and demanding submission in a Biblical sense. Lead in a way that shows your leadership is not just about you. Show that your leadership is about both of you.

2. Showing honor.

Show honor. A woman deserves the honor of her husband. This comes in addition to “live in an understanding way”. Neither of these two commands seeks power or control. These commands seek the strength of a relationship and the welfare of another; they reflect grace, which God gives us freely anyhow.

When a husband shows honor and seeks understanding, God gets the glory. What other goal should marriage have anyhow?

3. Don’t hinder your prayers.

I’ll leave this at its word. It says our prayers are hindered if we fail. This makes sense. Inserting our own desires ahead of obedience can hinder our prayers anytime.

Think. Are you, as a husband, willing to lead your wife? Wives, are you willing to encourage and help your husband lead?

Act. Ask God for the grace to lead with great care and concern.