30 July 2011

The Turmoil Within Me

I am sitting out on a deck with a breath-taking view on Piseco Lake in the Adirondack Mountains. My computer is open and I am working on two writing projects at the moment.
       As idyllic as this place is, I find myself unsettled and in turmoil. Today as I drove through Speculator, NY I stopped in a mini-market and picked up The New York Times. The lead article on the front page is about tens of thousands of Islamists in Egypt rallying to form a radical government in that country.
       I have been thinking and praying about Islam a lot this week, in preparation for the beginning of Ramadan Sunday evening. This is the most holy month of the year for Muslims around the world. The situation in Egypt reminds me what a powder keg this issue of Islam is in the Middle East and in the West.
       But right now I am perched at the edge of this lake in the Adirondack Mountains about as far from the realities of Egypt can be. And yet my soul is in turmoil, I am burdened ... burdened that the Church would wake up and embrace its mission to the Muslim (and Jewish) world to point people to Jesus and HIS Kingdom.

Retreat @ Raquette Lake

I am spending the weekend at Huntington Cmap at Raquette Lake with the board of directors of the Cortland State Alumni Association.
       This is the view from the shore of the camp. One of the most peaceful, idyllic locations on earth that I know. I am not used to the world being this QUIET and MAJESTIC. Wish I could be up here for a month or so.

29 July 2011

Enduring Words from John Stott

Here are ten statements made by John Stott during his life and ministry. These will stay with me. I am grateful for his depth of insight and wisdom.

  • [Jesus'] authority on earth allows us to dare to go to all the nations. His authority in heaven gives us our only hope of success. And His presence with us leaves us with no other choice.
  • The truth is that there are such things as Christian tears, and too few of us ever weep them.
  • Every Christian should be both conservative and radical; conservative in preserving the faith and radical in applying it.
  • Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us, we have to see it as something done by us.
  • We should not ask, ‘What is wrong with the world?’ for that diagnosis has already been given. Rather we should ask, "What has happened to salt and light?"
  • Social responsibility becomes an aspect not of Christian mission only, but also of Christian conversion. It is impossible to be truly converted to God without being thereby converted to our neighbor.
  • Sin and child of God are incompatible. They may occasionally meet; they cannot live together in harmony.
  • Good conduct arises out of good doctrine.
  • The very first thing which needs to be said about Christian ministers of all kinds is that they are "under" people as their servants rather than "over" them (as their leaders, let alone their lords). Jesus made this absolutely plain. The chief characteristic of Christian leaders, he insisted, is humility not authority, and gentleness not power.
  • We must allow the Word of God to confront us, to disturb our security, to undermine our complacency and to overthrow our patterns of thought and behavior.

The Religious Landscape of the Midwest

I was amazed by the billboards and symbols of religion along the roadways of the Midwest. The other day while driving in Ohio we came across a massive cross on the side of the road. It was like two stories high! It just stood alone on the side of the road. (see photo I took while driving)
        Some of the billboards had Scripture verses, one had the entire list of the ten commandments (I though someone might crash their car if they read all of them while driving!), one said "America, bless God!" Another said, "Adoption, not Abortion."
       When I drive to the Northeast of the U.S. I don't see too many billboards and symbols to secular liberalism, even though it is widespread here. I wonder why Christians dot the landscape with religious symbols all over the midwest but liberals don't do the same in the northeast.
       Just pondering!

The ORIGINAL Buffalo Wings

We stopped in Orchard park, New York last night just outside Buffalo. The home of the real and original Buffalo Wings.
     The wings in combination of a Sam Adams lager which was kind of flat made Jim and me feel like we were home again in upstate New York. Now it's off to the Adirondack Mountains - not exactly the beaten path.

27 July 2011

With Deep Gratitude for John Stott

Church statesman and theologian John Stott died today at age 90. He died quietly at home with his family, listening to Handel's Messiah. John Stott finished well.
       The very first theology classes I ever took were on cassette tape and talk by John Stott. They were on the Sermon on the Mount and the Pastoral Espistles. That was 1988 and I did not know how precious those tapes were in my life. Stott was a brilliant expounder of Scripture. Never flashy and never calling attention to himself. He just loved God, loved the Scriptures, and had an amazing heart for Evangelism in the 20th century.
       My friend Troy captured sentiments that I share about Stott's life. You can read Troy's thoughts at his blog HERE.
      I am deeply grateful for the ordinary greatness of John Stott. He served Jesus with all his heart and God has now welcomed him home. I am sure it is a beautiful homecoming.

Missouri - The View From Here

This morning I woke up in Cape Girardeau, Missouri at the home of the Ropers. They own a beautiful, majestic home on a lake off the beaten path of the Midwest.
       Last week was one of the busiest, run-here and run-there weeks I have had in a long time. It was a week of umpiring two youth World Series, preaching at church in Denver, and frantically getting ready to be on the road for three weeks.
       So it is a welcome respite to wake up on this pond in the steamy sunshine of Missouri. Today is a rest day and then my friend Jim and I hit the road again tomorrow morning enroute to New York. We will stop in Indianapolis for me to visit with a great ministry which reaches out to Muslims in America. Then it is off to Buffalo, NY over night (and some Buffalo wings for dinner no doubt). But for now it's a quiet day in southeast Missouri.

26 July 2011

Blogging from the Road

Today I begin a three-week road trip to the East Coast of the U.S. I am driving...about 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometres) over that time. So for the next few weeks this will be a travel blog of sorts.
       First stop today is Cape Girardeau, Missouri. My friends Jim and Rachel and their kids are driving with me to Missouri and we are stopping at Rachel's parents. One thousand miles to travel today - a long haul.
       Susy and the kids area meeting up with me back east in the next couple of weeks - Steven flies to New York on August 4th and Susy and Carly to D.C. on August 9th. Yes, our lives are a bit confusing!

20 July 2011

Dear Democrats and Republicans - do NOT be Idiotic!

On August 2nd the United States of America will default on trillions of dollars of loans unless the debt ceiling is raised. You might think that this reality would cause Democrats and Republicans alike in the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the White House to NOT be idiotic! That they might all give a bit for the good of the country. And if you thought this you would be WRONG!
       I support the Gang of Six senators (3 Democrats and 3 Republicans) who seem to have the only voices of sanity in Washington. Basically they seem to be the only grown-ups in the conversation. The other 529 Senators and Representatives would do well to heed the advice of the adults.
       So, my dear Democrat friends, you MUST cut entitlements and overall government spending. We do NOT have the money to spend! So suck it up and tell your constituents that the government is broke and we simply cannot afford many of the programs we have enjoyed in the past.
       And so, my dear Republican friends, you MUST raise taxes to increase revenue because the country is BROKE and needs wealthier to pay more to dig us out of this mess. So suck it up and do not bow to the Tea Party or other Conservatives who say we can grow our way out of this debt.
       The math is complicated in one sense and painfully simple in another. If we stop spending on many things and increase revenue through more taxes we can cut $4 trillion of our debt in the next 10 years. Republicans and Democrats need to get off their ideological horses and humble themselves to the economic realities.

19 July 2011

The Wonderful "Forbidden Peace"

I just watched a documentary entitled, "Forbidden Peace: The Story Behind the Headlines" which was produced by Jews for Jesus a few years ago. You can order it HERE
       Forbidden Peace is a 47-minute documentary which tells the story of Palestinians and Israelis who have discovered shalom in the midst of the Middle East and NO shalom.
       This is what Jews for Jesus says as an introduction to the documentary: "Beyond the bloodshed and despite decades of hostility, Israelis and Palestinians are joining hands and forging a peace agreement long thought forbidden.  While the world cries out for a solution to end the conflict that grips the Middle East, these people have found true peace, not in a political plan, but in a person...."

18 July 2011

Why Preachers Blab

Last week I wrote here that I hoped not to blab blab blab in my sermon last weekend. I don't think I blabbed, but I guess you would have to ask people who were the receivers of the message.
       This has got me thinking about WHY preachers go on and on. I have thought of a number of reasons:

  1. Quietly, we think we hear from God more than others do and need to communicate His Word to the masses. I think it is delusional on the part of we preachers to believe this!
  2. Some preachers are VERY, VERY good communicators and CAN go on and go on. They are engaging and entertaining so their listeners even enable them to blab;
  3. Preachers some times ask the question, "What do I have to say" rather than "What do these people need to listen to and wrestle with." This can also causing blabbing on;
  4. Unchecked EGO on the part of preachers. I suffer from this, so do many others. If you are a preacher and you are saying to yourself right now, "I do NOT have an unchecked ego," you have just proven my point;
  5. Our congregations feed unchecked ego. People become fans of a pastor/preacher and the church becomes identified with the preacher. "I go to Mark's church," "I go to Jim's church." This messes with a pastor's soul.
  6. Protestants have sometimes made an idol out of the preaching task. The sermon is the most important element in a worship service. That's definitely the case when you have a good communicator. I cannot find this "model" of worship as the norm in the Bible.
I do not mean disrespect for the role of preaching in a church. It is important; Paul's letter to Timothy tells us that elders who teach and preach deserve even more honor. And yet I am concerned that we have distorted the role of the preacher and are in danger of making  the message and messenger into an idol (something good that we twisted into something ultimate).

16 July 2011

Be the Change

Check out 30 Days of Prayer for great resources on the Islamic world and praying for Muslims during Ramadan.

15 July 2011

Remembering Muslims at Ramadan

Ramadan, the most important holiday in the Muslim calendar, begins on August 1st this year and goes for 30 days.
       This is a great opportunity to commit to several things over the month:
       1) Learn something new about Islam - read a book (I will give recommendations on the blog in the coming weeks), attend a seminar or workshop;
       2) Pray for Muslims every day. I will have Prayer Guides available from World Christian in the coming week. You can order through me. This is a great help in focusing every day;
       3) Go to a Mosque for Friday prayers once or twice during the month. It is a great learning experience. I will be in New York City on the first Friday of August (5th) and hope to go to a Mosque that day.
       I realize some may be wondering why I am even acknowledging a Muslim holiday, and whether it is right for a Christian to do so. Those are good questions and I would be happy to dialog about it. Email me at bnewman5280@gmail.com to talk further one-on-one.

14 July 2011

Preachers Should Not Blab

I don't think "blab" is really a word, but it works for communicating when someone goes on and on and on talking. Blab blab blab.
       Preachers are notorious for blabbing. I have preached a lot of sermons and I am doing another one this coming weekend at my church here in Denver. I really do not want to blab. I want to communicate God's message with brevity, and want to help people encounter God in worship.
       The guy who taught me preaching at Fuller Seminary said that if you cannot communicate a message in 18 to 22 minutes then you are probably not prepared to give the message. GULP! Yikes.
       So I hope I don't BLAB this weekend at Lookout. For those of you who will be there Saturday night or Sunday morning, let me know if I blabbed (past tense of "to blab" of course).

13 July 2011

Plague of Hail!

In the book of Exodus we are told that one of the plagues brought on the Egyptians was HAIL. God did this because they would not free the Israelites from slavery. I never really gave much thought to hail as a plague. I always thought some of the other plagues - blood and locusts to name two - were worse than hail.
       Today we had a hail storm in Lakewood - the seventh day in a row that we have had massive late afternoon rain and hail storms. This is what is looked like.

12 July 2011

Definitions Matter!

Some of you know this short advert for Berlitz. It's hilarious.

This coming weekend I am preaching on a word - "shalom" in Hebrew. Often misunderstood or misinterpreted, especially by those of us religious types. This ad reminds me to laugh at myself!

11 July 2011

Countdown to Ramadan - 3 Weeks From Today

The Islamic holy month of Ramadan begins three weeks from today on August 1st.
       This year I am going to use the holiday to focus on praying for and blessing Muslims, and encouraging other people to do so as well. One of the goals of The Isaac-Ishmael Initiative is to equip Christians about how to engage constructively with Jews and Muslims. Ramadan is a great opportunity for this.
       On the next two Mondays I will give more detail about how people can be involved and contribute to blessing Muslims during the next month. Check back on this blog next Monday for more details.

10 July 2011

Derek Jeter and 3,000 Hits

I am a life-long New York Yankees baseball fan. I even liked them in the early 1970s when they did not win a championship for a decade.
       I certainly do not like everything the Yankees do or what they represent sometimes - huge payrolls, major egos, some prima dona players. Yankee pitcher Sparky Lyle called the Yankees "the Bronx Zoo" in the 1970s.
       So when Derek Jeter hit his 3,000th hit today (a home run no less), I thought about his career not as much for his accomplishments on the field but rather that he has gained the respect of fans and players alike. To quote a friend who is a Boston Red Sox fan, "Jeter is a class act." I agree.
       3,000 hits is an amazing feat - it takes endurance and the willingness to work on your hitting all the time. Jeter has done that, so my hat is off to him.
       My hat is off to him all the more for (seemingly at least) maintaining his integrity on a team and in a town which does not value that too much. He is the captain for a reason - and not because he has 3,000 hits.

09 July 2011

Welcome to the World - Southern Sudan

A new country - the world's 193rd - was born yesterday. The Republic of Southern Sudan came into existence after two bloody civil wars have left millions of people dead.
       There is a giddiness that we may feel when we see people gain freedom from tyranny. We felt it when Saddam Hussein was toppled; people were full of hope when Eritrea became independent from Ethiopia.
       And yet I am sobered by the challenges which lie ahead for Southern Sudan. It will immediately be listed as one of the poorest nations on earth. It suffers from chronic drought, poor infrastructure, and relatively few natural resources.
       I spent time in southern Sudan a couple of decades ago when I worked for a relief agency. I remember being driven into the regional capital Juba and thinking, "this feels like a large village, not a regional hub." That "large village" is now the capital of a new nation! Quite staggering.
       There is something else quite unique about southern Sudan. It has always set itself apart from the north of the country based on religious beliefs. The south is nominally Christian while the north is Muslim. This is one of the few times in history where an Islamic state has gone through a civil war and eventually split along these religious lines. I think this is quite significant, and is something to be watched in the coming months and years to come.

08 July 2011

Tim Keller on How to Treat Homosexuals

I appreciate what Tim Keller has to say here about how Christians should treat homosexuals. I especially agree with him that Jesus spoke so much more about the sin of greed than about the sin of homosexuality. Let the debate begin!

07 July 2011

06 July 2011

Francis Schaeffer - prophetic words for the 21st century

This is a clip from Francis Schaeffer's "How Shall We Then Live?" where he speaks about the two idols of personal peace and affluence. His words seem all the more appropriate in the 21st century. Schaeffer was certainly a man for his time and a man for our time. (special thanks to Anne S. for this clip)

01 July 2011

Looking to July ...

Today is the first day of July. I am looking forward to the next 25 days at home before hitting the road on a three-week road trip to the East Coast of the U.S.
       It already feels like the "Dog Days of Summer" here in Colorado, with temperatures above 90 degrees (25c) every day this week. 4th of July weekend begins today and America takes a vacation for the next few days.
       I have a full month of a variety of things I enjoy and look forward to:
* First two weekends of July: Umpiring Colorado State Championship Baseball;
* July 16-17 and 23-24: Preaching on Shalom at Lookout Mountain Church here in Denver;
* Planning for the Fall - travel as well as new ministry opportunities with The Isaac-Ishmael Initiative;
* Mid-July: Umpiring two regional and national baseball tournaments here - the American Amateur Baseball Championships and the USSSA Global World Series (it's not REALLY global or world, they just think big!)
* July 26: My friend Jim and I hit the road for points east - Cape Girardeau, Missouri and then onto upstate New York and the Adirondacks;
* July 29-31: Retreat at Raquette Lake, NY for the board of directors of the Alumni Association of my college, Cortland State.
And then it will be August, with the first 2 weeks of the month on the East Coast visiting colleges with Steven and attending my nephew's wedding.