Sunday, July 12, 2015

Follower, or Admirer?

Brian Stoffregen shares this story:

There were two brothers in Georgia during the 1950's. One decided that in opposition to the dominant culture of the day, he was going to support and participate in the formation of a multi-ethnic community. The other worked as an attorney for a prominent law firm. Both were Christians and attended church regularly. As the multi-ethnic community formed and social pressure forced them into court proceedings, the one brother asked his attorney brother to help them with the legal work. The brother refused, saying that he could lose his job. The pressure increased to help with a reminder that he was a Christian. The lawyer responded, "I will follow Jesus to his cross, but it is his cross. I have no need to be crucified." To this his brother replied, "Then you are an admirer of Jesus, but not his disciple."

[Original post can be found here.]

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Do I Have to Forgive?

They say lightening never strikes twice.  John Rogers knew better.  Everyone said how amazingly he had coped with redundancy.  It is no easy task to begin again, aged 55, after a lifetime working for the same company.  With a lightness of heart he sank all his redundancy money into his new enterprise.  If his wife thought it foolhardy, she didn’t say so.  Just a few said, “What an idiot to blow it all, he’ll be bankrupt in a year;” though never to his face.

He rented a unit at the new Craft Park; one of those out of town shopping sites with a large car park, a cafĂ©, and a play area for the kids.  The unit was really an elaborate shed, one of about thirty on the sight.  Equipping it with tools, buying in wood, and creating a display and sales area took all his cash, but it didn’t matter.  What was important was that he could now make things.  His speciality: wooden toys.  Sometimes very traditional things—rocking horses, the grain of the wood dictated the racing shape of the animal.  Sometimes new things that seemed strange as wooden toys—alien space creatures that came apart, and docking satellite stations with flashing lights.

The business advice woman at the bank said his margins weren’t large enough.  He was covering his costs and making enough to live on - just, but he’d never be able to expand, and if supplies and sales got too out of kilter he’d have cash flow problems.  He nodded and made some encouraging noises, but in his heart he didn’t care.  He was making things.  He was happy, perhaps the happiest he’d been in his whole life.

The arson attack was so mindless.  A teenager fooling about, oblivious to just how paint, and wood, and varnish, would blaze.  He was a lad newly come to the area, in a foster home to prepare him for life on his own.  John knew nothing of him.  He was pleased that the magistrate thought the matter so serious; pleased that the sullen youth got a custodial sentence.  But that didn’t make up for what he’d lost; somehow all his motivation had gone up in flames.

The insurance company paid out.  The site manager was efficient in the rebuilding of the unit.  Customers urged him on.  But as the smell of the burning lingered about the place, so did the dead weight of John’s wounding.  It was as if the fire had burnt from him all the enjoyment he’d once had.  He was a victim, and he couldn’t shake it off.

And sure enough the business began to fail.  His toys didn’t have the same originality about them anymore.  The first Christmas after the fire John just got-by.  The second Christmas was a disaster.  “It’ll not survive,” they said, “It was obvious from the first that it wasn’t a sensible thing to do with his redundancy money.”

The last thing people expected was that he would take on staff: a young fella called Andy with a beard and a pony tail, a ring in his nose and in one of his ears.  No one knew where John found him.  It was all so unlikely; another indication that John had really lost it.

How surprised the scoffers were when the business started to turn around.  Andy had a talent for working wood, and John was soon able to build on it.  Teaching Andy rekindled his enthusiasm.  For the first time for two years he had ideas for new toys.

And Andy brought something new to the business as well.  Computers were his thing.  Before joining John he’d been on an intensive course and he put his learning to good use.  When their work featured in a Sunday supplement orders started to come thick and fast.  They started selling from their own website.  The woman at the bank was impressed.  “The business has turned a corner,” she said.  When people asked John, “Are you thinking of retiring?”  “Never,” was the reply.

But lightening can strike twice.  The lad who broke into the workshop was after the computer.  Why then did he smash the rest of the place up?  Wrecking the stock, smashing the lathe, throwing customer files everywhere, and pouring varnish over the lot.  The police seemed to know who he was, but there wasn’t enough proof to arrest him.  “We’ll start again.  There’s nothing here that a few weeks’ effort won’t put to rights.”  But John’s optimism found no echo in Andy.  The younger man burned with anger.

John had no idea how Andy knew who the suspect was.  He had no idea either of the revenge he intended.  It wasn’t until the police came to tell him that Andy was charged and in the cells that he knew anything was going on.  Andy had followed the suspect to a local pub, cornered him in the toilets, and beaten him until an arm and a nose were broken.

Minutes after the police left, John put the notice on the door.  It simply said, “Closed Down.”  With a heavy heart he turned off the lights, and locked his workshop for the last time.

A few days later the site manager came to see him.  “Don’t you realise how much money you’re going to lose giving up the lease without notice?  The business has got such prospects, why end it now?  You recovered after the fire, you can recover now.”  And sensing the real cause of John’s hurt, he added, “Surely the court will take into account why Andy did it?  They’ll be lenient on him.  After all it was his first offence.”

“No, not his first,” said John, “he’s already served time for arson.”

Jesus ended his story, “The Lord was angry. So he handed his servant over to the courts until he had paid all his debt.”  And he added, “So will my heavenly Father do with you unless each of you sincerely forgives those who wrong you.”

[Found at:]

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Oppressor and Oppressed

This story comes from a sermon on Jeremiah 29:11 by Nathan Colquhoun (1/11/10):

Here is an example of someone who tried to do what Jeremiah was telling Israel to do.
Mike Pfotenhauer is a man who started a backpack company called Osprey.  You have probably heard of them because they make great backpacks.  If you are serious into hiking, mountain climbing, then you would most likely be using an Osprey backpack.  Eventually they got pretty good that they moved to Colorado and bought an old factory outside a Najavo Native reserve.  They did their best to hire almost all local people for their workforce from the reserve.  They even got profiled in Fortune Magazine for being one of America’s best companies.  They keep growing bigger an bigger.  They were one of the first companies to start integrating recyclable materials into their packs and they kept innovating and coming up with new ideas.
The hard part is that other companies started coming in and offering backpacks for really cheap because they were making stuff cheaper overseas and the competition started getting really tough to actually sell backpacks so they had to start making layoffs and it was hard to keep up.  So eventually they made the decision to shift some of their production overseas to Vietnam.  Now we all know about overseas production and the types of conditions that the workers go through a lot of times just so we can get low prices on all of our stupid stuff we buy.  They have to work very long hours, under harsh conditions and for very little pay.  So Mike and his wife decide that if they are going to do this, they want to do it right.  So they move overseas so that they can be with the people who will be building their product.  They packed up their family, and moved to Vietnam so that they themselves could experience first hand the conditions in which they were asking people to work.
Where the average wage in Vietnam is $40, they pay an average of $80 a month.  Where the average work week is 63 hours, Osprey’s average is 48 hours.  Osprey pays time and half for overtime and double time for holidays.  This is all going on where their top boss is working alongside of them in the same community and living in the same conditions.  Mike was unwilling to exploit people just to increase his bottom line and keep his business in tact.  Mike chose to understand and be with the people he would typically be oppressing.  Not only that, he chose to pick up everything he knew and was comfortable with and built a house and planted gardens in and amongst them.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

From the Inside Out

Pastor Anthony Evans tells about the night that darkness descended on New York City during the blackout of 2003. It was a chaotic night, you may remember. Evans happened to be there that night. Manhattan, including Wall Street and the United Nations, was completely shut down, as were all area airports and all rail transportation including the subway.
There was one exception to that darkness. Evans happened on a restaurant where people were lined up to get hot food. He reports that in this dark situation there was this one place with all this light and joy and music and laughter and excitement. He went over to the assistant manager and said, “Mister, I don’t understand. It’s dark everywhere. The airport is right over there and it’s dark. My hotel is right over yonder and it’s dark too. Everything is dark, and yet you are lit up like a Christmas tree. How can this be?”
The manager said, “It’s really fairly simple. When we built this [place], we built it with a gas generator. We’ve got power on the inside that is not determined by circumstances on the outside. Even though there’s nothing happening out there, there’s plenty happening in here.”
Anthony Evans goes on to say, “When you accepted Jesus Christ, He came into the inside. So what’s happening on the outside shouldn’t determine whether or not you’ve got a lighthouse on the inside. What’s happening out there shouldn’t determine your joy. God has given us a generator of life and liberty in our souls – through our relationship with Jesus Christ. We don’t have to live our lives determined by life’s circumstances.”

Monday, December 17, 2012

I Want to be God

    "Once upon a time there lived a fisherman and his wife.  Their
       home was a humble two roomed cottage with a tiny garden and a
       well.  Every day the fisherman would go out in his little boat
       and in the evening bring home his catch, sometimes good,
       sometimes poor.  This was their livelihood.

       But the fisherman's wife was discontented.  "Why should I have to
       live in this hovel?  Is it too much to expect a decent home with
       water and electricity and a kitchen?   I wish I was a lady."  
       Her continual grousing made the fisherman quite miserable.

       One day, something happened which changed their lives.  The man
       caught a strange and beautiful fish which startled him by
       speaking.  "Please thrown me back into the sea and I'll grant
       whatever you wish."

       The fisherman thought a bit and then replied, "So be it.  I wish
       my wife was a lady and lived in a proper house with water,
       electricity and a kitchen."

       When he returned that evening he found that his wish had been
       granted, and his wife was very pleased.  But as the months passed
       she began to grumble again, "Is it too much to expect something
       better than this pokey house?  I wish I was a Duchess, with a
       mansion and servants and a carriage.  Why did you ask for so
       little?  I'm sure the fish meant us to do better than this."

       Driven by her complaints nagging, the fisherman tried to contact
       the fish again and rowed his boat to the spot.  No sooner had he
       called than the fish appeared and agreed to his request.

       But the duchess was still not satisfied.  Within a month she was
       grumbling and complaining again.  "I wish I was a queen, go and
       see your fish again".  And so he did.

       Life in the palace was luxurious, but the fisherman's wife, now a
       queen, wasn't content for long.  "What I would really like" she
       said, "would be to be God.  I'm sure your fish will understand
       that this is what I wanted all along."

       When the man returned from his last visit to his fishy friend, he
       found no palace on the shore, no mansion, not a  house.  Not even
       his little old cottage was there.  But then he heard crying, and
       noticing a cave in the cliff face, he went closer.  Inside it was
       fashioned into a rough stable.  There were 2 oxen and a donkey. 
       And in the manger a little baby lay crying."

       The fisherman's wife had her wish.

The wife in our rewrite of the story had, of course, forgotten what God is
like in this world, in human flesh.

She'd forgotten about Christmas and Passiontide.  
       She'd forgotten about the manger and the cross.  
            She'd forgotten that our God is a God who comes and who
identifies with his people, and especially with the poorest and the most
humble of people

It is so easy to forget what it cost Jesus to come to earth as one of us.

[from Rev. Richard J. Fairfield:]

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Patience is a Virtue

A young woman was shopping at the grocery store with her precious 2-year-old daughter. Predictably, the moment they turned down the cereal aisle, the little girl started clamoring for the sugary cereals that were located right at cart-eye level. “No, no,” her mother said. “We’re not buying those today.” Naturally, the little girl began to plead and whine. The mother took a deep breath and said, “Now, Monica, don’t get upset. We only have ten more items on our list and then you can go home and take a nice nap.” 

As any of you who have ever been shopping with a small child knows, once a child gets settled into a good temper tantrum, particularly when that child is strapped into a shopping cart where everything she passes is attractive but out of reach, well...things tend to go from bad to worse. A few minutes later, the small child lunged out of the cart and managed to snag a bag of Chip’s Ahoy cookies. Her mother deftly removed them from her hands, and the shrieking began. The mother took another deep breath: “Monica, calm down. We’re almost done with the shopping list, and you can go home and have a nice long nap.”

Finally, the woman brought her cart to the check-out line. The little girl’s lungs were going full strength, and her face was a deep shade of red. And as her mother put her items on the checkout counter, the little girl saw the candy bars that are so thoughtfully placed right where a child can reach them. After wrestling a bag of Skittles out of the hand of her distraught daughter, the woman repeated her mantra: “Monica, settle down. There’s no need to get upset. We’re all done shopping now, and you can go home and have a nice, long nap.”

As the woman pushed her cart toward her car, a man came up to her. “Excuse me,” he said. “I know we haven’t met; but I heard you and your daughter in the store, and I just have to commend you on your patience with young Monica.” The woman looked blankly at the man, then smiled. She held out her hand: “I’m sorry, there’s been a bit of a misunderstanding. My daughter’s name is Julia. My name is Monica, and it’s nice to meet you.”

Friday, August 31, 2012

Cutting Through the Chaos

We conducted a three-phase experiment at Rockford College, and used over 100 college graduates who were preparing for youth ministry.

In the first phase, we took a young volunteer from the room and blindfolded him. We simply told him that when he returned, he could do anything he wished. He remained outside the room while we instructed each audience member to think of a simple task for the volunteer to do. When the volunteer returned, they were to shout their individual instructions at him from where they sat. Prior to this, we privately instructed another person to shout a very specific task at the blindfolded volunteer as though it were a matter of life and death. This person was to attempt to persuade the blindfolded volunteer to climb the steps at the back of the auditorium and embrace an instructor who was standing at the door; he had to shout this vital message from where he sat in the audience. The volunteer was oblivious to all instructions and previous arrangements. The volunteer represented our young people, the audience represented the world of voices screaming for their attention, and the person with the vital message represented those of us who bring the message of the Gospel to youth. The blindfolded student was led back into the room. The lecture room exploded in a din of shouting. Each person tried to get the volunteer to follow his or her unique instructions. In the midst of the crowd, the voice of the person with the vital message was lost; no single message stood out. The blindfolded student stood paralyzed by confusion and indecision. He moved randomly and without purpose as he sought to discern a clear and unmistakable voice in the crowd.

The second phase: we told the audience about the person attempting to get the volunteer to accomplish the vital task. At this point we chose another person from the audience to add a new dimension. This person’s goal was to, at all costs, keep the volunteer from doing the vital task. While the rest of the audience was to remain in their seats, these two people were allowed to stand next to the volunteer and shout their opposing messages. They could get as close as they wished; however, they were not allowed to touch the volunteer. As the blindfolded volunteer was led back into the room, the shouting began again. This time, because the two messengers were standing so close, the volunteer could hear both messages; but because the messages were opposed to each other, he vacillated. He followed one for a bit, then was convinced by the other to go the opposite direction. In order for young people to hear our message we must get close to them. Even then, there are others with opposing messages who also are close enough to make their messages clear. Sometimes they are peers, relatives .The main lesson: only the close voices could be heard. Even though the volunteer took no decisive action, at least he heard the message.

The response to the third phase was startling. In this phase everything remained the same except the one with the vital message was allowed to touch the volunteer. He could not pull, push or in any way force the volunteer to do his bidding; but he could touch him, and in that way encourage him to follow. The blindfolded volunteer was led into the room. When he appeared, the silence erupted into an earsplitting roar. The two messengers stood close, shouting their opposing words. Then, the one with the vital message put his arm gently around the volunteer’s shoulder and leaned very close to speak directly into his ear. Almost without hesitation, the volunteer began to yield to his instruction. Occasionally he paused to listen as the opposition frantically tried to convince him to turn around. But then, by the gentle guidance of touch, the one with the vital message led him on. A moment of frightening realism occurred spontaneously as the one with the vital message drew close to the goal. All those in the audience, who up to this point had been shouting their own individual instruction, suddenly joined in unison to keep the volunteer from taking those final steps.

Goose bumps appeared all over my body as students began to chant together, “Don’t go!” “Don’t go!” “Don’t go!” So many times I’ve seen the forces that pull our youth in different directions join together to dissuade them from a serious commitment to Christ. The chant grew to a pulsing crescendo, “Don’t go!” “Don’t go!” But the guiding arm of the one with the vital message never left the volunteer’s shoulder. At the top of the stairs in the back of the lecture hall, the one with the vital message leaned one last time to whisper in the ear of the volunteer. There was a moment of hesitation, then the volunteer threw his arms around the instructor and the auditorium erupted in cheers and applause.

When the volunteer revealed how he felt as he went through each phase, it became apparent that if our message is to be heard, we cannot shout it from the cavernous confines of our church buildings. We must venture out and draw close to those with whom we wish to communicate. If we really seek a life-changing commitment from our young people, we also must reach out where they are and in love, gently touch them and lead them to that commitment. We asked the volunteer why he followed the one with the vital message, the one who touched him. After a few moments he said, “Because it felt like he was the only one who really cared.”

[from Ken Davis, How To Speak To Youth, pp. 19-23]