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The plight of people doesn’t change. Going through the check-out at Target today, I was reminded of most folks’ situation. The young gentleman scanning my soap, cotton balls, and dog food initiated a conversation. In two minutes, just one hundred and twenty seconds, I learned three things about this dude that tells me where so many people are today.

After he had asked me two quick questions relating to why I chose his line, I responded by asking him, “How many hours do you work a week?” He said, “35-40, but this week…only 16.” He continued without me asking anymore questions. He said, “Yeah, I have a college degree from Carolina…two degrees as a matter of fact…an undergraduate degree in biology, and a Master’s degree in teaching. I found out too late that I didn’t like teaching. I’m surely overqualified to work as a cashier.” Here’s the first thing I learned: We are all looking for meaning in life. It matters little how much education you have or how little you feel at times, we all want to do something that counts. You may not feel like it at times, but we want others to know we have something more to offer.

He asked me, “What do you do?” I replied, “I’m a minister.” Without missing a beat, he remarked back, “Yeah, I thought about doing that once…but only for a brief minute…I have a lot of bad thoughts going through my mind.” For a moment I didn’t know how take that response, and maybe I still don’t, but here’s the second thing I learned: We all have bad thoughts going through our heads. The thing that counts is what you do with those thoughts. If you act them out, those bad actions usually lead to bad consequences. Don’t act them out, turn to the redeeming power of God in Christ.

As the lady behind me was staring him down and gritting her teeth, he didn’t get in a hurry. He asked one final question so I could sum up your situation and mine…he asked, “What is the name of your church and where are you located?” I told him, and told him about how we meet in an elementary school because we don’t have a building. He said, “Oh yeah, I know what kind of church you have!” That impatient lady behind me was being tested. By this time, I felt I should be moving on out the door.

Do you really know quandary and predicament of most people? They are wanting to belong to something that counts, but they feel like they are not good enough. The church is looking in the wrong places to preach and make disciples. Here’s the kicker and the third thing I learned: They think they already have the church figured out, and many times they do! Way too many times we, the church, miss the target.

Rocks & Water

 

After 29 years I returned to the Holy Land in Israel for a tour with some friends. On the first day we heard, “You’ve traveled to Israel to see rocks and water.” Those were some of the opening words of our tour guide, Ronnie, as he introduced us to the Holy Land experience. This was no ordinary guide; he served in the Israeli army, a famous docent, and a Messianic Jew to boot. Try to imagine for a moment…rocks and water. After spending several thousand to get there, two grueling flights, and a little jetlag, I reluctantly admitted he was right. I looked around for a moment…and all I really saw were rocks and water. Rocks and water.

Who goes to such measures to hike around a country, exhausting yourself, in constant close quarters with a large group, eating cafeteria food…on a 50-seat bus…to see rocks and water? Disappointment wasn’t Ronnie’s intention, but frustration went through my mind for a moment. His point was valid, getting us to think about Biblical truth expressed through archaeology, geology, and hydrology. After all, we are talking about excavations starting at two thousand years old. So, it made me begin to look at the rocks and start thinking about the water.

The rocks we saw were significant rocks. Chiseled and piled correctly they form synagogues, in Hebrew it’s בית כנסת pronounced bet kenesset. Jews refer to them as community centers. I wasn’t just looking at rocks, I was looking at the center of life and livelihood. I looked at rocks that the “old fox” Herod put on top of each other to pay homage to himself. I ventured to the Valley of Elah to see David’s battle with the giant, and what was I reminded of? David picked up some rocks in the dry river bed for the fight. I waded through Hezekiah’s tunnel made by means of chiseled rock. Other rocks were stacked up to represent sanctified altars that showed a sacrificial system demanded by our Holy God. Zion and the Temple is built upon a rock. The southern steps of the Temple are constructed…not out of pre-made stones amassed on top of each other, but hewn out of Mount Moriah (a rock). Still other rocks were piled up to build arenas hosting huge crowds where our early brother and sisters were singled out and made sport of as they were tortured to the laughing mocking crowds. Ronnie said, “They paraded the Christians out to the jeering assembly and the leader would stand up and shout, “For those about to die, we salute you!” And they rolled around laughing, like it was a rock concert or something. I just stared at the rocks. There were rocks everywhere…but not just any rocks.

Water is water…isn’t it? Yes, but not in the Holy Land. Distinct masses of water outline and define God’s country of Israel. The Mediterranean is the beautiful blue water that you encounter on the eastern side with modern hotels and resorts, but it was the sea that carried the Gospel to the “other parts”, ancient Greece, and eventually Rome. Is it just water? I don’t think so…it should be much more to us. I encountered the Sea of Galilee, the body of water where several of the disciples fished for a living and spent their lives up until they followed Jesus. There is more water…the Jordan. Understand, the Bible never calls it the Jordan River, maybe the river Jordan…usually, just the Jordan. What water can be more important than the Jordan? Joshua led the people into the Promised Land by crossing the Jordan. David led Israel’s army to cross the Jordan to fight and defeat the Syrians. Elijah and Elisha hung out at the Jordan. Then there is the Salt Sea, the place near Sodom and Gomorrah, where Lot had to flee, and God told him not to look back, but Lot’s wife unfortunately didn’t get the message or was too stubborn. Upon her glancing swivel she became a pillar of salt. The human body is made up of salt and water…if you don’t have enough water to balance it out…you turn to salt.

Still, are rocks and water the reason I made the pilgrimage to the Holy Land? No. Yes. Wait a minute…it seems so. I thought I learned all I needed to know about rocks as a kid playing outside and slinging them around our yard. Water can be dangerous, but you can’t live without it for more than three days. In 1969, Bishop Pike of the Anglican church visited the Holy Land with his wife doing research on the rocks of the Judean wilderness. They wanted to try to get an understanding of what Jesus went through during His 40 days of temptation in the desert. Unfortunately, they did! Unprepared for their little excursion, they rented a car, but didn’t take any water, just two Cokes. It was the summer of ’69 and the dry heat in the desert usurps the water out of your body without any notice. Their car broke down, so they set out hiking to find help. Pike was a heavy smoker and alcoholic, and not in good shape, so his wife left him to rest while she walked farther. Four days later they found Pike’s dehydrated body lying on top of some rocks in a gorge. Rocks and water.

Jesus sat upon many rocks to teach. At the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says if you want to be wise then build your house on the rock. He tells Peter, “You are a rock, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not come against it!” As He was making His triumphal entry, riding on the back of the foal while the people rejoiced and sang hallelujah, the religious people said, “Teacher, tell your people to shut up!” And His response was, “I can’t. If I do the rocks will worship Me!” And all throughout the Scriptures there are rocks and more rocks, and if that were not enough rocks, when the women scurried to get to the tomb on the third day, the rock was rolled away. So, I stared at the rocks, the big ones and the little ones.

Is water important to Jesus? It had to be. And as I contemplated the bodies of water He encountered, it just caused me to gaze at them more. The places of water is where we find huge amounts of life and movement from our Lord. He sailed on water, He preached the Sermon on the Mount beside the water (maybe sitting on a rock), He fished from the water, and He walked on water. Think about it some more, His first miracle was turning water into wine, He calmed that water, He preached from a boat on that water, and He called the disciples while walking beside that water. His teaching, stories and parables center around water. He says He is the living water. He makes the massive statement, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” My goodness, Jesus was baptized in the Jordan water, and He commands us to be baptized in water. It’s only water, but you can’t conclude that it’s just any water.

I’ve been privileged enough to hike the Great Wall of China several times, I’ve seen the Panama Canal, I’ve gazed over Niagara Falls, London Bridge, and sailed Shanghai’s Bund. I’ve been to the top of the Empire State building and to lower Alabama. I’ve stared at Mt. Fuji, walked the streets of Macau and Hong Kong, Malaysia and Indonesia, and flown over the Swiss Alps. I’ve run on beach after beach after beach, and climbed mountain after mountain after mountain in different parts of the world. None of these things impress me like a bunch of rocks and some water…in the Holy Land…the land of our Lord. Somehow putting them all together in that small causeway strip of land called Israel seems to do something to me. I will do it again…what? I will spend money again to come back and stare at the rocks and the water. So should you. Those rocks and that water will change your life!

 

Giving – Two things you want to teach your children: Prayer and Giving. I believe it is mammoth to teach them these two principles of life. You need to model both for them. Ever since my son was born, I’ve lovingly preached to him, “Son, give more, don’t be a taker.” We are like God when we give. Not only is America full of takers, but it has bled over into the church. The Pareto Principle is alive and well in the church, 20% give 80% of the budget for ministry. You are either going to be a giver or a taker in this life. Givers are beautiful people and takers are ugly. You really can’t be a Christ follower if you are not giving. You will never know peace in your life if you are not giving. You are not growing in Christ if you are not giving. Rationalization of not giving is rampant among so-called believers in Christ, and God is not blessing pseudo-Christian living. Giving is something you can’t hide because it comes out in your lifestyle, attitude, and language. What is more revealing than the way you spend your money or use your resources? Nothing. It tells everything about you. Give me 5 minutes in conversation with someone and I can tell if they are selfish and self-serving by the way they talk. Because of credit, virtually everyone in America is rich, so it’s easy to hide behind a certain lifestyle. Giving is ingrained at an early age. Your parents taught you how to give or take. Which one was it? Moreover, it is difficult to switch when you become an adult from either one. Just try to tell a giver that they can no longer give and see what happens…they will give more! Some Christians are takers when they think they are givers. They give by attitude, and feelings toward the pastor and ministry instead of by conviction, responsibility, and obedience to God’s Holy Word. Hopefully, you are a giver, and hopefully, you are obedient to God. My sister, Cheryl and her husband Charles are givers, and live obedient to Him. They tithe their paycheck every week. Why? On Sunday, February 12th, 1967, Cheryl was three years old and on her way to church. She was carrying her “envelope.” Back then we had these envelopes where you could your “religious” stuff for the week. You could also enclose your offering to be given in church each Sunday. Cheryl had her usual .10 in the form of two nickels tucked into the envelope that she licked and sealed that morning or the night before. She got into the car with my grandmother that morning on the way to Sunday School. Inadvertently, it fell out of her little purse or Bible, and in her haste to get to her class, she forgot about. If she remembered, it was too late because she had no idea it was lodged undiscoverable between the car seats. Fifteen years later, my grandfather sold that 1965 lime green Chrysler…to my uncle. He cleaned it out and there it was…Cheryl’s envelope. He gave it her, and to this day she keeps it as a reminder of how she gave when she was a little girl. It’s a tremendous lesson in giving, and how to teach your children to give. One little caveat…one of the nickels is missing. I suppose you could come to a thousand conclusions about that, but I think the lesson is not in the amount, but in the action. She’s a giver.

Little Books – Dowey Digest.8.21.17 – Here’s the deal: Your children are going back to school as these lazy dog days of summer segue into a breezy colorful fall. Or, they are pretty much grown, in college, out of school, or starting their first real full-time job, maybe getting married, having children, etc. You find yourself moving from leadership role of parenting to regular cheerleader mode. However, you still have a desire to affect their lives in a positive manner. Was taking them to church or sharing with them the things of God enough? Is it over? How do you keep influencing their lives for the good? How do you keep impacting their lives for God in a relationship with Christ? If you missed out on their growing up years, how do you contribute something of significance to their impromptu focus on adulthood? Bad news: Your old lecture style doesn’t cut it for the young adult these days…they can not only shut their ears and go to their room, but they can now go to their own home…if they are not living with you. My current assessment – Contemplating the question: Am I a good dad? I know Missie is a great mom…but let me…maybe…help you by sharing how I am answering that intriguing question in my way of continuing to help shape my son, Jack, for the Gospel and for life itself. By virtue of the impact of two of my 7th grade teachers, I journal. Although, I don’t do it daily, I invest in nice, leather bound books, to write in, and I have many. Several years ago, Jack was moving into college life, and my influence was diminishing. Then, as I thought about it, I came up with the fact that one day I would be leaving this planet, and what would I leave my son? Floating around in my head are my dad’s words and my grandfather’s stories of wisdom. What knowledge or guidance would I leave my son? Here’s how I solved my dilemma and I keep on parenting without annoying Jack. After all, I want him to grow as a man and make his own decisions. After all, making a choice is a must if he is going to grow up. I committed to writing ten journals to Jack in my lifetime. I may make it to ten, I may not…it’s my goal. I shop around for the perfect diary looking book, not wincing at the price tag, the more expensive and exotic the hide and cover, the better because it shows I am committed to completing my project (I put my money to where my words are)…they will contain the words to my son that I want him to have…even after I am gone. They may be worthless to others, but I am believing, thinking, and banking on that they will be gold to him. I have planned to present them to him about every two years. I have given him the first one and will complete the second one at the end of 2017. In it, I write about life, my life, his life, our family, experiences, trips, and our lives together. I scribble down thoughts, encouragement, and write out prayers, and Psalms, and other verses of God’s Word that are important to me. I explain some of my decisions and some of my faults. Some of it is pretty, some of the little book is raw, some of it silly. And my promise to Jack is one of privacy: These are words between a father and a son, “No one will look at these words except you Jack.” It is so serious to me, and such a unique thing for us that I will not photograph the inside words nor can I share them with you. And here’s one last word, my point of gratification: Recently, Jack was traveling to Europe, and he had his backpack on and Missie was commenting on it and later she told me, “In it are several private things, his Bible, a note or two, something from me, and the first leather journal you gave him.” Okay…at least here’s a picture of the outside…Jack bought this one for me to write to him!

Asia

Mr. George Muller was an incredible man of faith and trust. He ran an orphanage and cared for over 10,000 children in his lifetime. He never begged for money, yet the money to care of the orphans came in miraculously time after time. He would let the need be known, and pray, asking God to provide. Simple Ministries is going back to Asia, site and exact purpose of the ministry is under wraps because of the sensitivity to government demands. Bibles will be given out, pastors will be trained to study and prepare to teach and preach the Gospel, and for the first time, the Gospel for children will be shared. We are looking to have $20,000 in the next 6 weeks. We are asking God…will you ask with us? http://www.provesimple.comFullSizeRender 80

China Summer 2015

China 259By now you have discovered that giving out Bibles in China is a signature project for Fresh Church. My wife and I started Simple Ministries last year to organize our passion for giving out God’s Word all over the world. God has allowed me as pastor to lead distributions in central Asia over a dozen times now. I plan to go back many more times, God permitting.

For hundreds of years mission work on the other side of the planet was reserved for a select called few. To learn a foreign language took almost a lifetime and the traveling was a nightmare. However, the world has gone “glocal”. Local churches and her people can go global very quickly. Not only can we hop on a jet and get to Shanghai in 18 hours, but via the phone and Internet you can communicate instantly. Relationships can be formed, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is shared.

Follow me as I lead our church to do incredible missions by simply being fresh. Sometimes the freshest thing you can do it is to make it where people can read and study God’s Word. Let’s continue to make an impact and contribution to the Kingdom of God by going and giving. China 2016 is right around the corner for us! http://www.provesimple.com