Monthly Archives: January 2008

Kenyan prayers

I got this story from Caleb Project’s Mission Catalyst Newsletter. I think it serves as an excellent example of applying a spiritual solution to a political problem.

A group of children runs up a muddy path, drenched from an unexpected downpour. A five-year-old boy speeds in front of the pack when he suddenly spies the perfect puddle.

He waits until his older sister and friends are almost parallel with him and then practically “cannonballs” to get the biggest splash. He giggles and dashes in the church’s front door as the eight-year-olds squeal and chase after him.

I laugh at the scene and follow the kids inside the small, tin shack of a Baptist church. After three weeks of post-election violence, it’s good to hear the sounds of children laughing and playing – especially in the hard-hit slums of Nairobi.

Inside the church, it’s wall-to-wall children. My heart overflows with emotion as I hear a sound even more precious than laughter – a child’s sweet, innocent prayer.

“Father, our country is in trouble. We pray for peace to come,” an 11-year-old boy prays. “Protect us, Father. Teach people to love one another and not to fight anymore.”

For the last two weeks, children in this small slum area have gathered to pray for their country. The church’s pastor says the children started gathering on their own, so he let them in the church. The daily prayer meeting now attracts more than 200 children ranging in age from three to 17.

Ever since the children started praying together, the pastor says there have been no deaths, houses burned or even violence in their section of this slum. Adults recite this fact in amazement. The children, however, don’t even mention it because it’s exactly what they expected to happen.

“Pastor told us that there is power in prayer. He said we can change the country through prayer,” 12-year-old Boniface explains. “So that is what we are doing, changing the country.”

I’m amazed at the depth of understanding these children have of the issues surrounding the Kenya post-election chaos.

The 12-year-old prays for President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga to sit at one table and talk peacefully. Votes cast in the election for these two candidates are under contention. The two leaders have yet to talk to each other in an effort to bring the strife in Kenya to a peaceful resolution.

Caroline, 16, shows her concern for the 250,000 internally displaced people around the country. She prays they will be able to go to school somewhere and that they feel safe. UNICEF estimates that more than 40 percent of the displaced are children. Parents put their children on trucks headed to the camps for displaced people but stayed behind to protect their houses and belongings. Many sit in camps, unable to attend schools that just opened mid-January.

Another young boy prays for the people hurting others who are not from the same tribe, referring to reports of ethnic animosity throughout the country. He asks God to help them all be brothers and sisters and one people.

The pastor smiles and whispers to me, “A few days ago that one asked if I knew what tribe he was. I told him no. He didn’t know, either. So he told me, ‘I think I belong to the tribe of Kenya.'”

When it’s time for the “babies” to pray, a fearless four-year-old clasps his hands and closes his eyes so tight that his entire face scrunches up. “God, people die,” he says in prayer. “Please do not let anyone die in front of my house.”

More than 600 people have died since elections December 27. The number increases daily as violence and protests continue.

It’s now my turn to pray and close the meeting. There’s not much left to say, so I thank God for the innocent prayers of children and their faith in his answers.

As soon as I say “Amen,” the church buzzes with little voices and bottled-up energy spurts out freely. Laughing and holding hands, the children rush into the rain and head home.

Even though it’s dry season and the rains are not supposed to come for another month, no one complains about getting wet or muddy. The rain is an answered prayer.

The children had prayed about a three-day countrywide protest called by the opposition party. They had asked God to take control and keep people from dying.

Because of the rains, turnout for the protest was much smaller than expected. While there was still a lot of property damage, it was much less than predicted. Death tolls for the week were the lowest since the incidents started.

“See,” seven-year-old Natasha whistles through her missing two front teeth. “God answers prayers.”

May Christians everywhere learn from these children. True power flows from Calvary’s cross, not from Caesar’s throne.

Meeting the Jesus Campers-revised

A few weeks ago I received an e-mail from a friend of mine who pastors a small church near a military base in rural Missouri. Although I’ve spoken at this particular pastor’s church before, a lot has changed in my life since the last time I visited him and his family. Since my first two visits, I’ve spent a year and a half in West Africa, traveled to Pakistan twice, debated a radical jihadist in London, and participated in a peace delegation with a group called Christian Peacemaker Teams in the West Bank.

Last Sunday when I met up with the pastor and his family, I knew full well that I wasn’t the only one whose life had changed within a few short years. When I first met the pastor’s son Levi, Levi was 10 years old and virtually indistinguishable from every other 10-year old boy, except for the tail on the back of his neck and his unwavering conviction that Jesus has called him to be a missionary in India. This time around, when I introduced myself to Levi, who didn’t remember me before, I knew I was in the presence of a movie star…sort of.

The Levi that I’m talking about is Levi O Brien and the pastor that I’m talking about is Pastor Tim O Brien. The church I am referring to is Rock of Ages, the spiritual family of Levi and Rachel, two of the child stars featured prominently in the documentary film Jesus Camp. The film follows Levi, Rachel, and one other girl as they spend the week at a summer camp for Christian youth led by the charismatic preacher Becky Fisher. At camp, the children speak in tongues, dance around in war costumes, stretch forth their hands to pray to a cardboard cut-out of President George Bush (in actuality, the children were praying “for” Bush not “to” him), prophesy to each other, preach to each other, fall out under the power of the Holy Spirit, and pour out their souls in passionate intercession for the spiritual fate of our nation.

When I actually watched the movie Jesus Camp for the first time, I had very mixed feelings. On one level, I was glad to see young people passionate about their faith, but on another level I was thinking “Oh my! I hope there aren’t too many non-Christians who will actually see this. They’ll think we’re all nuts!” It turned out that my fears were justified. Most of the reviews I read all but charged Becky Fisher and the O Brien family with child abuse. Some condemned them to hell for preying on the minds of the innocent and turning them into brain-washed psychopaths. One reviewer called it the scariest movie of the year. Another reviewer compared the children to Islamic jihadists in training.

Before I give my impressions of the O Brien Family and the Rock of Ages Church, let me start off by saying there were several aspects of the film that concerned my wife and I. In the film, Pastor Tim’s wife Tracy teaches her children the literal six- day creation theory as if it were the only possible interpretation of the creation account in Genesis, implies that Global Warming is a left-wing conspiracy, talks about America being a Christian nation in a manner that many secular Americans and even a good number of Christians would consider naïve. My wife and I also felt that much of the political activism in the film was inappropriate for children who were too young to understand the complexities of the issues they were dealing with (such as 6 and 7 year olds placing red bandanas around their mouths and protesting the evils of abortion). The most disturbing aspect for me was the filmmakers’ portrayal of evangelical Christians as a monolithic entity that by definition votes Republican and supports the Iraq War.

When Pastor Tim invited me to speak at his church, I have to admit that I was shaking in my boots. Not only did I know that I would be preaching a message on the radical non-violent nature of the Kingdom to a church where nearly every member worked for the U.S. military; but with images from Jesus Camp rolling around in my head, I expected my message of refusing earthly power as a means to advance the purposes of God on the earth would meet with cries of blasphemy. Not only did I not get booed off the stage, but afterwards I had several meaningful discussions with the members of the congregation and, most importantly, with the O Briens themselves.

You wouldn’t get this impression from watching Jesus Camp, but the O Briens have absolutely no interest in turning the U.S.A. into a Christian theocracy. During the potluck after the service, Pastor Tim shared with me his views concerning the pursuit of earthly power to advance the Kingdom of God and referred me to other preachers who were also speaking out against the national and political idolatry often associated with the Christian right. Pastor Tim’s wife, Tracy, was even more forthright in her views. Given her comment in Jesus Camp, I was surprised to hear her say that she agreed with me on my points that much of what constitutes as American Civil religion is based on the founding myths of the early pilgrims who believed they were establishing the Kingdom of God by settling the New World. Tracy also shared with me how she has come to realize that the Constitution is not a religious document, that much of what she learned about American history as a child was candy-coated, and that the founders of America, though they were brilliant, were fallible just like the rest of us. To my surprise, Tracy went on to tell me that, although she loves politics and considers herself a conservative, she hasn’t considered herself a Republican in two and a half years!

As far as the O Brien children, I don’t think I can stress enough how normal they are. Levi is now 15 years old and still dreams of living in India as a missionary in the near future. He loves to read books on history and has a part in a theatrical production in cooperation with other home schooled kids in the area. As much as I appreciate Levi’s authenticity, I think the proof of the normalcy of the O Brien children isn’t so much with Levi, but with Luke. With Levi’s passion for ministry and his Jesus Camp fame, you would think that Luke would be the bitter younger brother starving for parental approval (if indeed the O Briens were the stereotypical domineering type everyone seems to think they are). Not even close. Evangelical haters may be disappointed to hear that Luke is a happy, well-adjusted 14-year old kid who loves Jesus, loves his parents, and wants to chase tornados when he grows up. With his long hair, I told him he looked like he could be one of the characters from the movie Twister. This drew laughs from mom and dad.

Do the O Briens want to kill Harry Potter? Actually no. Jesus Camp viewers may be surprised that the O Briens actually let their children read the Harry Potter books and watch the movies. Do the O Briens want capital punishment for homosexuals? No they don’t. They believe homosexuality is a sin, but it’s no worse than other sins, such as pride and greed. Do the O Briens want to overthrow the government? Again, the answer is no.

The problem with our media saturated culture is it’s far too easy to draw conclusions based on images and 15 second soundbites, especially when the images and soundbites are divorced from their broader context. In today’s pessimistic culture, it’s hard to believe that children can be passionate about their faith and even harder to believe that human beings can behave so strangely in a religious meeting and retain their intellect. But just because it’s hard for people in the post-modern West to accept the strange behavior associated with revivalism, that doesn’t means this type of behavior is all that unusual. Not only is American history filled with examples of religious revivalism, much of the non-Western world today experiences manifestations associated with religious ecstasy on a regular basis.

Jesus Camp may have frightened American critics, but I bet if I showed the film to a group of Africans or Brazilians, they’d likely jump for joy and shout hallelujah. This isn’t to say that I don’t have my own reservations when it comes to unusual behavior associated with religious revivalism. I just happen to know that, from a cultural and historical standpoint, the skepticism in the modern West against behavior associated with religious phenomenon is culturally and historically unique-not the other way around. Trust me. Neither Levi nor Luke is the next Ted Kazinski. You can sleep soundly tonight.

Meeting the Jesus Campers

A few weeks ago I received an e-mail from a friend of mine who pastors a small church near the military base in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. For years my cousin has been the worship leader at this man’s church (up until last week when the army relocated him to Germany). Although I’ve spoken at this particular pastor’s church before, a lot has changed in my life since the last time I visited him and his family. Since my first two visits, I’ve spent a year and a half in West Africa, traveled to Pakistan twice, debated a radical jihadist in London for a feature length documentary, and participated in a peace delegation with a group called Christian Peacemaker Teams in the West Bank.

Last Sunday when I met up with the pastor and his family, I knew full well that I wasn’t the only one whose life had changed within a few short years. When I first met the pastor’s son Levi, Levi was 10 years old and virtually indistinguishable from every other 10-year old boy, except for the tail on the back of his neck and his unwavering conviction that Jesus has called him to be a missionary in India. This time around, when I introduced myself to Levi, who didn’t remember me before, I knew I was in the presence of a movie star…sort of.

The Levi that I’m talking about is Levi O Brien and the pastor that I’m talking about is Pastor Tim O Brien. The church I am referring to is Rock of Ages, the spiritual family of Levi and Rachel, two of the child stars featured prominently in the documentary film Jesus Camp. The film follows Levi and Rachel (and one other girl from another church) as they spend the week at a summer camp for Christian youth led by the charismatic preacher Becky Fisher. At camp, the children speak in tongues, dance around in war costumes, stretch forth their hands to supposedly pray to a cardboard cut-out of President George Bush (in actuality, the children were praying “for” Bush not “to” him, something that insiders like myself would know but outsiders could easily misinterpret), prophesy to each other, preach to each other, fall out under the power of the Holy Spirit, and pour out their souls in passionate intercession for the spiritual fate of our nation.

As a Christian reared in the Pentecostal/charismatic tradition, there was very little I saw in Jesus Camp that I couldn’t relate to in one way or another. I can remember speaking in tongues for the first time at an Assembly of God summer camp during one of the evening services and then waking up the next day to go swimming and horse back riding. I remember singing “I’m in the Lord’s Army” in children’s church (which I understood figuratively even as a seven year old). I can remember attending a Christian school when I was between the ages of 12 and 14 and the highlight of my week was attending a voluntary prayer meeting with my youth pastor on Thursdays afternoons. In these prayer meetings, my peers and I would pray in tongues, prophesy, interpret dreams, and cry out to God for revival. The church of my upbringing was also the spiritual center in my city of a very controversial revival movement in which the signature manifestations were Holy Laughter, falling out under the power (also known as getting slain in the Spirit), shaking, and a sensation of drunkenness associated with the arrival of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the congregation.

When I actually watched the movie Jesus Camp for the first time, I had very mixed feelings. On one level, I was glad to see young people passionate about their faith, but on another level I was thinking “Oh my! I hope there aren’t too many non-Christians who will actually see this. They’ll think we’re all nuts!” It turned out that my fears were justified. Most of the reviews I read all but charged Becky Fisher and the O Brien family with child abuse. Some condemned them to hell for preying on the minds of the innocent and turning them into brain-washed psychopaths. One reviewer called it the scariest movie of the year (perhaps the creepy background music throughout the film got to him). Another reviewer compared the children to Islamic jihadists in training.

Before I give my impressions of the Obrien Family and the Rock of Ages Church, let me start off by saying there were several aspects of the film that concerned my wife and I. In the film, Pastor Tim’s wife Tracy teaches her kids the literal six- day creation theory as if it were the only possible interpretation of the creation account in Genesis, implies that Global Warming is a left-wing conspiracy, talks about America being a Christian nation in a manner that many secular Americans and even a good number of Christians would consider naïve. My wife and I also felt that much of the political activism in the film was inappropriate for children who were too young to understand the complexities of the issues they were dealing with (such as 6 and 7 year olds placing red bandanas around their mouths and protesting the evils of abortion). The most disturbing aspect for me was the filmmakers’ portrayal of evangelical Christians as a monolithic entity that by definition votes Republican and supports the Iraq War.

When Pastor Tim invited me to speak at his church, I have to admit that I was shaking in my boots. Not only did I know that I would be preaching a message on the radical non-violent nature of the Kingdom to a church where nearly every member worked for the U.S. military; but with images from Jesus Camp rolling around in my head, I expected my message of refusing earthly power as a means to advance the purposes of God on the earth would meet with cries of blasphemy. Not only did I not get booed off the stage, but afterwards I had several meaningful discussions with the members of the congregation and, most importantly, with the O Briens themselves.

You wouldn’t get this impression from watching Jesus Camp, but the O Briens have absolutely no interest in turning the U.S.A. into a Christian theocracy. During the potluck after the service, Pastor Tim shared with me his views concerning the pursuit of earthly power to advance the Kingdom of God and referred me to other preachers who were also speaking out against the political idolatry often associated with the Christian right. Pastor Tim’s wife, Tracy, was even more forthright in her views. Given her comment in Jesus Camp, I was surprised to hear her say that she agreed with me on my points that much of what constitutes as American Civil religion is based on the founding myths of the early pilgrims who believed they were establishing the Kingdom of God by settling the New World. Tracy also shared with me how she has come to realize that the Constitution is not a religious document, that much of what she learned about American history as a child was candy-coated, and that the founders of America, though they were brilliant, were fallible just like the rest of us. Tracy also told me that liberal historians write some of the books she has her children read. To my surprise, Tracy went on to tell me that, although she loves politics and considers herself a conservative, she hasn’t considered herself a Republican in two and a half years!

Were the O Brien children psychologically disturbed? I don’t think I can stress enough how normal the O Brien children are. Levi is now 15 years old and still dreams of living in India as a missionary in the near future. He loves to read books on history and has a part in a theatrical production in cooperation with other home schooled kids in the neighborhood. He loves Jesus with all his heart and, though an independent thinker, he loves and respects his parents in a way that is refreshing to see considering the disrespect that so many other children his age have for their parents. I think the proof of the normalcy of the O Brien children isn’t so much with Levi, but with Luke. With Levi’s passion for ministry and his Jesus Camp fame, you would think that Luke would be the bitter younger brother starving for parental approval (if indeed the O Briens were the stereotypical domineering type everyone seems to think they are). Not even close. Evangelical haters may be disappointed to hear that Luke is a happy, well-adjusted 14-year old who loves Jesus, loves his parents, and wants to chase tornados when he grows up. With his long hair, I told him he looked like he could be one of the characters from the movie Twister. This drew laughs from the entire family.

Do the O Briens want to kill Harry Potter (as the film seems to suggest)? Actually no. Jesus Camp viewers may be surprised that the O Briens actually let their children read the Harry Potter books and watch the movies. Do the O Briens want capital punishment for homosexuals? Again, the answer is no. They believe homosexuality is a sin, but it’s no worse than other sins, such as pride and greed. Do the O Briens want to overthrow the government? Again, the answer is no. As Tracy explained to me, Becky Fisher’s comment to the liberal radio talk show host that “democracy is set up in such a way as to bring an end to itself” was not about anarchy. Becky was simply saying that democracy is useless without a moral foundation.

The problem with our media saturated culture is it’s far too easy to draw conclusions based on images and 15 second sound-bites, especially when the images and sound-bites are divorced from their broader context. In today’s pessimistic culture, it’s hard to believe that children can be passionate about their faith and even harder to believe that human beings can behave so strangely in a religious meeting and retain their intellect. But just because it’s hard for people today (particularly in America and Western Europe) to accept the strange behavior associated with revivalism, that doesn’t means this type of behavior is all that unusual. Not only is American history filled with examples of religious revivalism, much of the non-Western world today experiences manifestations associated with religious ecstasy on a regular basis.

Show the film to a group of American journalists and they’ll likely be horrified. On the other hand, show the film to a group of African or Brazilian Christians and they’ll likely jump for joy and shout hallelujah. This isn’t to say that I don’t have my own reservations when it comes to unusual behavior associated with religious revivalism. I most certainly do. I just happen to know that, from a cultural and historical standpoint, the skepticism in the modern West against behavior associated with religious renewal is culturally and historically unique-not the other way around. If all of us could approach life with a lot more understanding and a lot less judging, I have a feeling that films like Jesus Camp wouldn’t be so frightening after all.

Forgetting my lines

Picture this. I’m standing in front of a crowd of hundreds of people. I’m an actor in a theatrical production that all my friends and family have paid good money to see. Just when I’m about to say my lines…I freeze. With the eyes of hundreds of people staring straight at me, I realize all of the sudden that I don’t know my lines. I’ve either forgotten them or I’ve never seen them before. I run back stage frantically looking for a copy of the script only to find that when I actually look at the script, I have no idea what I’m reading. The words appear on the page but my brain can’t make sense of what I’m reading.

And so the dream ends. I probably have this dream at least two to three times a year. Yes, I used to be in theatrical productions when I was in high school, but that was a long time ago.

Can anyone think of how this could be used in a sermon illustration?

Perhaps me exposing my fears and insecurities to the global cyber-shrink population will yield some sort of redemption.

Be gentle.

Which one should I choose?

I receive e-mails from a lot of different ministries that want me to support or join their cause. Today I received an e-mail from two different ministries. In order to show the contrast between the two ministries, I decided to show the two e-mails side by side and ask my readers which cause I should support and why?

Below is the first e-mail sent out by Jay Sekulo from ACLJ.

Dear Aaron,

You are invited to join me and the ACLJ as we journey to the Holy Land this summer!

Jay Sekulow in Israel This is truly an unprecedented opportunity to experience Israel in a way that is not available to most visitors. You will not want to miss it.

Click here to review the itinerary, Frequently Asked Questions, and pricing for this special trip.

This is going to be more than just a 10-day tour. From June 17 through June 27, 2008, you can EXPERIENCE the rich history of this beautiful land.

The theme of this trip is ”Stand with Israel – in Israel.”

Walk where Jesus walked. Spend time with government officials, military leaders, and members of the Israeli Parliament. Get in-depth analysis and up-to-the minute information on what is taking place in the Middle East.

I will also provide you with an ”insider’s view” on how the ACLJ and our worldwide affiliates are showing support of this crucial Middle-Eastern State … and why it is so vitally important.

Jay Sekulow in Israel Travel to one of the most strategic lands in all of history. Learn first-hand about life along the borders of Israel, Lebanon, and Syria. Witness the impact of events in Iraq on this region. Be baptized in the Jordan River. Experience the holy places where Jesus taught, and absorb the rich history of this amazing land. Make your plans NOW to join me for this unprecedented opportunity! Visit our website for more information or to put your deposit down.

The price of $3,999 per person, based on double occupancy, includes round-trip airfare from New York, hotel accommodations, all meals, sight-seeing tours, entrance fees, taxes, and gratuities. (I encourage you to book your trip before February 15. After that day, another $150 fuel surcharge per person will be added to the $3,999 fee.)

The best way to stand with Israel is to stand IN Israel. Don’t miss this life-changing tour, June 17 – June 27, 2008.

Now that you’ve read an e-mail asking me to join a political agenda, I’d like to compare it to another e-mail I received from an Iranian evangelist named Reza Safa. Here is Reza’s letter to me.

Dearest Friends,

I have just returned from a ministry trip to Las Vegas, where I ministered at the only Iranian church in the area. The Lord touched many people there. About ten people accepted the Lord and many were baptized in the Holy Spirit, and the Lord delivered and healed several people. One man approached me the first night and asked me to pray for his deliverance from alcohol addiction. After my preaching, when I gave the altar call, he and his wife came up and accepted the Lord. That night he asked his wife to throw away all beer and alcohol from their house. He used to drink two cases of beer every day. The following night he came back and told me that when he woke up that morning, he was completely free from alcohol. “I feel like a brand new man,” he said to me. That night he also brought his daughter, who is facing a marital problem. She also accepted the Lord and received prayer. To God be the glory, Jesus is still in the business of delivering people. During the services, a tall and strong elderly man, who used to be a wrestling champion, helped me catch people as I prayed for them. Talking to him afterwards, I realized that although he never missed any of their church services, he was still a Muslim and faithfully prayed his Islamic prayer five times every day. I encouraged him about faith in Christ. “Every blessing of God is only in Jesus,” I said to him. I told him that God will not operate outside of Jesus, for in Him all things sustain. He kept insisting that he loved Prophet Jesus, and I kept insisting that he didn’t believe in Jesus—not the Jesus that the Bible talks about. I loved on him and told him the truth. People must know the truth, even if the truth offends them, as long as we speak it in love. He called me yesterday and left a message on my cell phone. He said that the following morning when he woke up, for the first time after fifty years, he did not do his regular Islamic prayer, and that he asked Jesus to come in to his heart. I called him back and asked him if he called Jesus Khodavand (Lord). He acknowledged and told me that he hadn’t missed his daily Islamic prayers since he was six years old. He said that he wanted to be baptized. I asked him if he felt a change in his heart. He did and he said that he felt peace for the first time in his life. To God be the glory.

Christianity used to roar with conviction and solid revelation knowledge that shook the known world of its time. Unfortunately, Christianity today appears to be a more refined version of human philosophies. It lacks conviction and persuasion. It has glamour but it lacks glory. It is bound by self-interest and fear. “Why should we confront, when we can all live together in peace!” That is the philosophy of the hour. Interfaith and political correctness are invading our societies. It is all mixed in a grey mesh. Jesus said it well, “If the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.” Did you know that salt raises your blood sugar? But without it, food has no taste. Truth is hard, but without it men like this wrestler will continue to turn toward Mecca and pray to a dead god five times a day for fifty years.

I have received criticism by several Christians about our upcoming debate with the Islamic Society of Tulsa. Most of their reasoning is based on fear of confrontation by the Muslims. In other words, let us not tell them the truth because we are afraid of their responses. Isn’t that what the Sanhedrin said to the Apostles? “Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 4:18)

Jamal Badawi, the Egyptian Muslim scholar whom the Islamic Society of Tulsa invited, often argues in major events that the Bible is a corrupted book, that Jesus is not the Son of God, and that Jesus did not die on the cross for the sins of the people. While he is hindered from receiving the salvation of God through Jesus Christ, he is also hindering millions of others from hearing about that salvation. While millions of Muslims are damned for hell because of the efforts of Mr. Badawi and his organization ISNA, Christians are afraid Muslims will react and hurt them. My Bible says, “… they loved not their lives unto death.” Isn’t that what Apollos did? “For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.” (Acts 18:28 NIV) Isn’t that what Paul often did? Isn’t that why he was stoned in Iconium? Read Acts 14:1-5. Paul caused uproar almost everywhere he went. Read Acts 13-20. Read about the public debates Paul had with the Jews every day for two years:

“Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. Acts 19:8-10 (NIV)

If Paul lived in our day, many Christians would curse him and possibly take him to court, accusing him of creating hatred between the Jews and Christians.

No, we will continue speaking the truth boldly and lovingly because we desire to see millions of Muslims delivered from darkness and set free, just like our Iranian wrestler friend from Las Vegas who prayed in a foreign language (Arabic) to a false god five times daily, bending up and down toward Mecca. But today he is free because I told him that God would never answer his prayer as long as he is a Muslim! Wow! That is harsh! But that is the truth. And that set him free.

You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.

I hope to see you all next Friday, January 25th. I am asking our church to fast and pray that day that God would open the eyes of Jamal Badawi, hundreds of Muslims who will be there, and tens of thousands of Muslims who will watch this video on the internet. Would you also commit that day to the Lord by fasting and praying for the salvation of these Muslims? Also please be there early, the doors open at 6:00 PM.

Loving Him Forever,

Pastor Reza F. Safa

Let’s see here. The first e-mail wants me to advance a political agenda. The second e-mail wants me to advance a spiritual agenda.

Which one should I choose?

Is there really any contest?

Me and Mr. Potter

What do these phrases have in common?

1. I wish I had a million dollars. Hot Dog!

2. What is it that you want Mary? Do you want the moon? I’ll give you the moon.

3. Well why don’t you kiss her instead of talking her to death?

4. Look Burt! My mouth’s bleeding! My mouth’s bleeding Burt!

5. I’ve been saving this money for a divorce if I ever get a husband.

6. Look, daddy! Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.

7. You once called me a warped-frustrated old man.

These are just a few of the one-liners in what is arguably the best loved film of all time, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The movie follows the story of a man named George Bailey, a man who had great dreams for himself, but found himself stuck in his hometown of Bedford Falls running the business/charity Bailey Building and Loan, the company he inherited from his father.

Like all good movies, “It’s a Wonderful Life” has a villain, and the villain’s name is Mr. Potter. Mr. Potter represents the corporate villain who cares for no one but himself and tramples on the poor like garbage. One of the most poignant scenes in the movie is when Mr. Potter offers George Bailey a job, promising him the pie in the sky but basically asking for his soul in return. In classic hero fashion George Bailey gives Potter a piece of his mind and calls him a warped-frustrated old man. Potter’s position throughout the film is that of condescension. Potter says that George Bailey isn’t a business man and that he’s made life too easy for his borrowers.

Here’s my problem. Every time I watch the movie, I have this struggle between my head and my heart. In my heart, I’d like to believe a man can do business like George Bailey, but in my head, I find myself agreeing with Mr. Potter that a man can’t run a business like a charity.

Think about it. Have you ever met a George Bailey? Can you imagine Country-Wide mortgage telling you “Oh..that’s okay. I know you’ve been having a hard time lately. Just pay me when you can.” That’s basically how George Bailey ran his business and that’s precisely what makes him such a stark contrast to the evil Mr. Potter.

Throw the teaching of Jesus into the mix, “Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away” and it seems we have a real dilemma. If anyone typifies the spirit of Jesus in these words, it’s George Bailey. The problem is that George Bailey is a fictional character, not a real person.

Here are a few questions that I think are worthy of reflection.

1. Have you every met a real George Bailey? If so, did he or she remain in business or did they have to close shop eventually?

2. In our impersonal capitalist economy, is it even possible to be a George Bailey?

3. How do you run a genuine business, especially one that affects people’s livelihoods, without becoming a Mr. Potter?

4. What would Jesus say to a guy like George Bailey, a man who cares for the poor, but happens to be their lender?

5. Does the fact that it’s very difficult to imagine a real live George Bailey tell us something about the economic system that we’ve taken for granted? Are there other macro-economic systems that would make it more viable for people like George Bailey to survive in the real world?

Discuss!

What the TV advertisers think of me

Last week I was having trouble sleeping on a Friday night. So, at about 12:30 a.m. I turned on the T.V. and happened to catch a few minutes of an episode of Friends. To my utter amazement I saw an advertiement for a gay dating service in St. Louis. The thought suddenly struck me….why do the advertisers think I’m gay just because I’m watching Friends late on a Friday night?

The following Monday I was doing my exercises in my living room and I noticed how many advertisements there were targeting senior citizens on medicare. Apparently, the advertisers also believe I am an old man.

Put it together and, according to the advertisers, I’m an elderly gay man in desperate need of a scooter.

In actuality, I’m a physically active 29 year old married man with occasional insomnia.

The next time you turn on the T.V. ask yourself who the advertisers think you are. The exercise can be fun….and a bit disturbing.

My Most Embarrassing Moment

One of the things I learned in Bible School is that today’s ministers are supposed to be transparent. Very few people can connect with ministers who seem to have it all together. Even fewer can connect with ministers who like to talk about how they have it all together. Growing up my mom used to always say to me, “Aaron, you need to learn to laugh at yourself.” In an effort to please my mom and my Bible School instructors, I’ve decided to start the year off with revealing my most embarrassing moment to you, my loyal readers.

I was 21 years old and working full time as a waiter at Steak N Shake, a popular restaurant here in the Midwest. For those unfamiliar with Steak N Shake, think of a restaurant that resembles a 50’s diner-a step above fast food but not as high on the status scale as an Applebee’s or a Houlihans. Due to an extremely short staff that evening, one of the managers called me in to work at the last minute. I didn’t want to work on a Sunday evening, but I decided to go in anyway since I needed the extra cash…and because the manager on duty really needed the help.

I’m not sure whether God was getting even with me for breaking the Christian Sabbath or whether it was just plain bad luck, but I’ll never forget how it seemed like the entire state of Missouri showed up to eat at Steak N Shake that evening…with only me and one other guy waiting tables. (Note to hypercritical theologians…the above sentence regarding divine retribution for working on a Sunday is a literary device, not a doctrinal statement). There must have been at least 50-75 people all wanting service at the same time. Put that in combination with an individual such as myself who gets really flustered when he’s in a hurry and who happens to be gracefully challenged…and you have a disaster waiting to happen.

One table in particular started out with two shakes, a side of coleslaw, and a cup of soup, a coca cola and three glasses of water. Nothing unusual. I’d filled hundreds of orders like this before. Why this had to happen on a day when the entire restaurant was full, I’ll never know but just as I was getting ready to hand my customers their order, I slipped and fell flat on my …note to editors…derriere. The tray went flying and there was broken glass everywhere. I even managed to get a good portion of the chocolate shake in a female customer’s shoulder length hair.

If this were where the story ended, it would be embarrassing enough. Unfortunately for me and my customers, the story doesn’t end here. After cleaning up my mess I had to go back to fill the customers order a second time. As I walked out onto the floor, I could feel the intensity of every eye in the restaurant staring straight at me, wondering what was going to happen. With every eye glued on me and me alone (at least that’s what it felt like at the time), I attempted to deliver my customers’ order a second time and, what do you know, my foot slipped again and I landed flat on my back with my arms sprawled across the floor. Again, glass went flying everywhere and, again, the same lady received the same amount of chocolate shake in her hair as the first time.

After I fell the second time I went to my manager and begged him not to make me go back out and face the same crowd. “For the love of everything sacred and holy please don’t make me go back out there,” I pleaded. Even as I was pleading with my manager to let me go on break, I knew it wasn’t going to happen. We were too short-staffed and there were simply too many people in the restaurant. For the third time I had to take the walk of shame, only this time people had literally cleared the aisles to prepare a path for me to walk. They were fleeing for their lives. Thankfully, on my third try I was able to deliver the order to my customers and to my utter amazement, the lady with the chocolate shake in her hair even left me a sizable tip on the way out.

A very wise king once said, “For a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again,” (Proverbs 24:16). While I hope and pray that everyone reading these words are doing wonderful and feeling great, I know that for some, perhaps many, that is simply not the case. Perhaps you’ve reached a place in your life where it feels like everything you touch turns to sand. Maybe you’re attempting for the 7th time the same New Year’s resolution. Maybe you’ve suffered a failed business, or a failed marriage. Maybe you’ve fallen away from God and feel that you’ve been out of the race for too long to get back in. Perhaps you’ve dropped out of church because of a root of bitterness you’ve allowed to take hold in your heart. Whoever you are and whatever your situation, know that you are not alone. It’s not the fact that you’ve fallen that defines you. It’s whether you get back up. If you feel like you’ve fallen too many times to be able to hold your head up high, perhaps your Heavenly Father has led you to read the words of this clumsy, flustered preacher to deliver this message to your soul at the start of 2008.

Happy New Year!

Your race isn’t over yet.

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