Preparing for that big trip!
So today is the big day. Right after services Dorrie and I will be picking up her parents and heading to Montana for Tashia's wedding.
As I'm writing this, on Wednesday, the only thing in my suitcase are two pairs of jeans. Dorrie's suitcases are packed completely. They have been for over a month now. We both plan for trips differently. She starts planning, packing and getting organized as soon as we decide to go somewhere. I tend to put things off until the last few days. Not saying one way is better than the other, they both have advantages.
I get to enjoy that adrenaline rush of running around last minute trying to remember everything. Dorrie gets to enjoy the peace of mind knowing it's all done. But either way you do it, when the time comes to hit the road, we both have everything together. But what if a trip comes up suddenly?
Several years ago I received the call none of us wants to get. My dad had suffered a brain aneurysm and was not expected to live. We all packed and hit the road within hours. Anything we forgot we just borrowed from family or purchased on the trip.
But what if a trip came up so suddenly that you had absolutely no time to prepare. Say for instance that you died. At that point you have no more time to get ready for that trip! It's too late to get things in order, make the right decisions or any other preparations. One moment you are here, the next you are facing eternal judgment. What will that outcome look like?
None of us like to think about that 'trip.' We all think we have plenty of time to 'get right with our maker.' But the truth is; we never know. That's why we meet on Sundays and throughout the week: to stay prepared! Have you started packing yet?
We're Part of a Family
I love getting together with my family and talking about my ancestors and hearing stories about them. Some are funny, some heroic, some you wouldn't want others knowing about! But sometimes when I'm with my brothers in Texas they will be telling a story about a great uncle or some other relative that I don't really know. Part of this is because when I was younger I didn't see the importance of getting to know my great aunts and uncles. I was too busy playing. Another part of this is the fact that I moved away many years ago and they stayed and have kept in touch with many family members that I have not. So when they tell a really funny story about a family member I don't know that well, I feel like I've missed something.
Being away from family causes you to miss important things. My older brother, even when we were young, would sit and listen to my grandfather and his brothers talk about their lives. My younger brother spent a lot of time with my grandparents and an uncle. They learned a lot of our family history that I don't know. They share a bond I don't have. They gained wisdom I don't have. And I feel left out.
Great strength, wisdom, joy and love can come from spending time with your family. Older members can share stories of struggle, victory and lessons from life you cannot gain anywhere els. Younger members can become lifelong companions who share your own struggles and victories. You can even share your own experiences with younger family members who will pass these stories and wisdom on to future generations.
Unfortunately, many people don't recognize the church as a family. They are like I was as a child, too preoccupied with 'playing,' they miss out on the wisdom, joy and bonds that can come out of spending time with the family. So when they hear stories or wisdom passed on by the 'family' they feel left out.
But it's not too late. This family has 'family reunions' three or more times a week! Rather than rushing out the door to whatever activities you are rushing to, stay awhile. Visit, go to eat with 'family members.' Ask questions. Tell stories. Share your lives and your wisdom. You won't regret it.
Just A Glimpse
October 1st is opening day of the archery deer hunting season. I've been shooting my bow every now and then to get ready, especially as my freezer inventory continues to diminish. But October is still a way's off, so I haven't been too concerned about getting ready . . . until last Monday evening.
Last Monday I was over visiting with my mother-in-law and left her house around 4:30. It was a beautiful evening, so I decided to take a quick drive out to the pond and enjoy the cool weather and scenery. I drove around the pond, then drove around a small stand of corn. As I was slowly driving by the corn plot and looking around in the timber, I saw something that caught my eye. I stopped, slowly backed up until I could see it best, and realized it was a deer. I couldn't see much of it, just its rump, but I sat and waited to see if it would move and I could catch a better view. Eventually I saw movement. Up by where the head should be, but it wasn't the head I saw, it was horns. Not the small, nubby horns I've been seeing on the deer as they grow their new set of antlers, this was a large, wide velvet covered rack on a nice buck. My heart did a little flip. Time to get the bow out more often!
It's amazing what a little glimpse of something can do for us. With the monotony of life going on day after day, it's easy to lose sight of what's coming. I think that can happen in our faith life as well. We know heaven will be great. We've heard that all our lives. But it's still quite a ways off, so we just keep going through the motions waiting for it.
But what if we could get a glimpse of heaven? Would that increase our excitement level? Would that make us more dedicated to preparing for eternal life? I believe it would.
Every now and again I hear a song that gives me a glimpse of what I think heaven might be like; voices of the saints lifting in harmony to their God praising him, thanking him, and worshipping him. I close my eyes and allow the song to lift me up and my heart stirs.
I hope you catch that glimpse too. I hope this morning that in our singing, our prayers, at the Lord's table or in God's word you may catch that glimpse. It changes how you live your life.
The Importance of Marriage
Throughout the Bible we find marriage as the image used to describe God's relationship with his people. Song of Solomon is a very passionate image of God's love for his people. The prophet Hosea was told by God to take a prostitute as his wife and every time she wandered from Hosea and back to prostitution God ordered Hosea to take her back. All of this was to illustrate how God wanted his wayward bride, Israel, to return to him.
The church is called the bride of Christ (Rev. chapters 19 and 21). Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves his church and was willing to die for it. Wives are to submit to their husbands as to the Lord (Ephesians 5).
Even in the beginning, (Genesis 2:24), God uses marriage as an illustration of the kind of relationship he wants with his people, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh." Jesus tells us how the two become one in Matthew 19:6; "So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not divorce." God joins people together just as he joins himself to his people. Marriage is the earthly representation of God's loving relationship with his people.
So what does it say to a world of unbelievers when they see Christian marriages falling apart? It tells them that God is not really involved, that he doesn't really make two into one, and that his followers don't really trust in God. And that is a shame.
But just like Hosea struggled with his relationship with his wife, and God has struggled with his relationship with his people, husbands and wives struggle to stay faithful when there are so many other temptations everywhere around us. Married couples need reminders to trust God and remain faithful to both God and their commitments to their spouses. And this is what we are trying to do.
In October we are hosting two events to strengthen marriages. First we are hosting a Family Dynamics facilitator training course to equip couples to hold marriage workshops. Two weeks later we are hosting a one day seminar by Family Life called "I Still Do." Between now and October you will be hearing more about these events. Until then, I ask you to consider participate in the events, promote the events to others you know and pray for God to strengthen marriages in the Quad Cities through these events.
Face to Face
It was great having the girls home last week! Even though we talk on the phone every now and then, it is different seeing them face to face.
I remember being at the airport last Tuesday waiting for Chelsey and Robert to arrive. When they announced that the plane had landed, I began watching people as they walked down the hallway. It's funny, but I couldn't describe any of the many faces I saw, but once I saw the one I was looking for, well, you know, it does something in your heart!
Then, around 11:30 that night, we heard a car pull into the drive and all rushed downstairs. It was dark, but I still remember seeing Tashia's face as she came around the vehicle. It warms you.
The reason I'm thinking about all of this is that yesterday I saw a post on Face Book from a young lady I knew from the church in Dallas. Her mother had just passed away and in her post she said, "Mom got to see Jesus' face this morning." Reading those words sent a warm feeling through my heart. Seeing Jesus' face, feeling his embrace, knowing that you are home. What can be more wonderful than that?
Revelation 22:1-4 says, “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.”
Notice that last line: They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. It will be a homecoming like never before!
I read an article a while back about Levi's. You know, those denim jeans that were evidently invented for miners because denim held up better than the cotton or wool pants they had been wearing before. The article wasn't really about the history of Levi's, or if it was I don't remember that much, but the thing that I do remember was something the president (or maybe the CEO) of Levi's said in the article. He said he never washes his Levi's. Never. He said the jeans will last much longer if you don't wash them and if they start to smell he just folds them up and puts them in the freezer. This kills the smell, he said.
My momma would disown me if she found that I quit washing my jeans. (By the way, I didn't quit washing my jeans even though I will wear them for several days before putting them in the hamper.) It's ingrained in us that even after we wash something, it gets dirty with use and must, therefore, be washed again. The idea of one single washing leading to perpetual clean is foreign to us. And I think this has influenced our understanding of our own spiritual cleanliness.
In baptism we are washed in the blood of the lamb. Our sin is washed away as far as the east is from the west. We talk about these things and use these terms often, and yet we still often feel dirty, not clean, or in need of another spiritual washing. And since we 'feel' dirty we begin to feel unworthy, so we begin to withdraw and avoid others so they won't smell our dirtiness. This leads to isolation, loneliness and frustration and our message of hope loses it's power. How can we preach the 'Good News' if we aren't experiencing that 'Good News'?
We need a refresher to remind us of our standing with God. In his letter to the church at Corinth, after listing all the sinful behaviors that keep people 'dirty,' Paul says this: And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:11 NIV)
Those of us who have been washed in baptism are sanctified. We are justified. We are clean!
PLAYING WITH FIRE
(Well, actually rattlesnakes)
It was one of those awesome days of childhood. My three boy cousins, my three brothers and I were playing on the hillside by our house at the ranch. Up the hill from us was an old house that our grandparents had lived in but was currently empty and for some reason I can't remember we all decided to go in. Being boys, we had to race to see who would get in first, and my youngest brother, Rex happened to be the first one through the gate, up the steps and into the door. He was running at top speed when he reached the top of the steps, pulled open the screen door, turned the handle and ran in. The rest of us boys were only steps behind him, but when the screen door slammed shut we all froze in our tracks.
Right beside the concrete steps to the front door was a large rattlesnake, coiled, hissing and rattling! The slamming of the screen door had woke him from his afternoon nap in the sun and he was not too pleased. He was coiled up ready to strike at where the sound had come from: the top of the stairs.
The rest of us boys back tracked as fast as possible and yelled at Rex, who was inside the house, "Snake, Rex! Rattlesnake!"
Now I'm not saying my younger brother is stupid or anything, (that would be sinful based on a recent sermon), but his reaction to our announcement was not really the smartest thing. Instead of staying in the house, like a normal person, Rex burst through the screen door and jumped right past the very large, very mad rattlesnake!
Once he was safely with the rest of us, we all picked up rocks and proceeded to give the snake a good, biblical stoning. There is nothing that will get your blood pumping quite like standing mere feet away from a large, angry rattlesnake with nothing in your hand but a rock. The bravest of us would walk just within striking distance and throw just as we thought he was about to strike. Once we had conquered our enemy we cut the rattles off and ran home to show mom our trophy. Needless to say she wasn't as happy about our conquest as we were.
As you're reading this story you might be thinking that we Love boys were crazy. But are any of us any less crazy when we allow ourselves to come too near to the sin that the Devil tempts us with every day? Is his bite not just as deadly? Is his bite not even more deadly?
A Case of Mistaken Identity
Long before I finished my schooling, I had made a decision to lighten my load. For almost eight years I had to carry my laptop computer with me just
about everywhere I went so I could work on assignments, papers, sermons, etc., wherever I was. In addition to the laptop computer, I always had a good supply of books with me as well, all filling my
bag to somewhere between 20 and 40 pounds. Truth be told, I'm getting a little older and my shoulders don't handle carrying 20-40 pounds of books and computer as well as they used to.
So for my graduation, Dorrie got me an iPad. Awesome little device that is a mini-version of my laptop, but weighs about 1/4 of my laptop. I don't carry all the textbooks any longer, and only bring my iPad, so my shoulders are much happier.
My plan was to do all my work on my iPad, returning to my laptop only in situations that required the beast. It took me a little while to learn how to use the iPad for my projects, I had to install a few apps, buy a keyboard so I could type at a more normal speed, and now for the most part I use my iPad for all my daily workings. But . . .
But I have found some limitations. There are certain apps that don't have all the functions on the iPad. There are certain tools I need that aren't as easy to use on the iPad as they are on my laptop. The iPad doesn't have any ports to plug in flash-drives, and I've found some difficulty saving work from my iPad to my laptop.
The other day, while frustrated with a project, it dawned on me: the iPad isn't intended to replace laptops, otherwise they wouldn't make laptops any longer. The iPad is a different tool altogether, and to get some work done, you really need a big computer. It's a matter of mistaken identity: iPad's are not full blown, big memory computers.
The reason I'm writing about this is that I think we sometimes suffer from a similar mistaken identity: we are not God.
So often, I see myself as an "all powerful iPad": a mini version of God capable of doing all that is needed. In reality, I'm lacking in all kinds of power, memory and capabilities. There are some things, (all things, actually), that I have no power over, but God does. God is the real thing, all powerful, full of unlimited memory and processing power.
I need to keep this in mind.
"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." (Romans 12:2 NIV)
We've been talking a lot lately about how Christians are supposed to be different, distinct, not like everyone else. But how do we know how and when
to be different? How do we recognize the situations that call for us to be salt and light and what is the best way for us to accomplish this?
Part of the challenge is in letting God's word work its way through our own lives. It is easy to memorize scriptures, quote Bible passages and say, 'The Bible says . . .' but it is more difficult to be so saturated with God's word that we ooze salt and light naturally.
I'm reading a book right now on everyday discipleship and it has a great illustration of how we often misuse the Bible and this misuse hinders our being transformed by the renewing of our minds as Paul says above.
Remember when you were in school taking a math class and the teacher would assign you several pages of problems? I know that when I was in High School our math books would have answer pages in the back of the books. They didn't have answers to all the questions, only the odd or even numbers, but at least you could check some of your work to see if you were on the right track. Unfortunately, some of my classmates only got correct the problems that had answers in the back of the book. They never really read the text part of the text book, never really listened in class and wrestled with what was being taught so they could never do the problems on their own.
Some people use the Bible as an answer key rather than a text book. They look for specific answers to life problems but without reading, learning, evaluating and applying the rest of the book to their lives.
As you listen to sermons, Bible classes or Bible studies, don't just hear the words; think about them in relation to your own life. Let the words shine in the dark recesses of your heart and mind so that you can see where you need to change. Evaluate your actions in light of these words and let them change you. Be transformed by the renewing of your minds.
The Rewards of Practice
The metal silhouette of a mountain lion stands on a hillside some 100+ yards away. I've never managed to hit the mountain lion before. I've been working on my trigger pull, my focus and holding steady over the past couple of years, and so far on this trail walk I've only missed two targets. But the mountain lion is a long way. My brother and uncle have missed it and they are great marksmen. I take a breath, lift the rifle, focus, breath, set my trigger, level my sights, press the trigger and BOOM! The smoke begins to drift away and a second or so later I hear the distinct clang of a lead ball striking home on the metal mountain lion. What an awesome feeling.
The reason I enjoy my black powder shooting and my fly fishing is that I am competing with myself. I want to become better at placing my fly at just the right spot, learning how trout think and which fly will attract them. I love shooting because it forces me to focus, to get better than I have been in the past at controlling where my shot goes. It is all about being a better marksman and fisherman than I have been in the past.
I've been thinking lately about how these same principles apply to my spiritual growth, and how they are different. The principles are the same: you practice your faith and spiritual disciplines in order to become 'better' at living a righteous life. The difference is that with my sporting activities there is an immediate, distinct reward: you hear or see the target being hit where you want or you end up fighting a trout on the end of your line. But the rewards of spiritual training are not always so clear and distinct. This is what makes them difficult to practice with the same joy as shooting or fishing.
Perhaps one way to experience that joy is by sharing stories of our efforts. After a shooting event or a day fishing, we often sit around talking about our successes and failures. We congratulate each other with, "Great shot!" or "Nice fish!" Sometimes we give each other advice after a missed shot or a lost fish. Unfortunately we don't provide many opportunities at our church gatherings for us to share our spiritual victories and struggles. I think we need to change this, but I'm not sure how. If you have any suggestions, let me know. After all, our spiritual growth is far more important than any other activity we practice for.
Glimpses of the Kingdom
While in college, my older brother and my future sister-in-law took me skiing in New Mexico. I had never been to the mountains so as we drove toward them I would occasionally catch glimpses of them in the distance. The closer we got, the more my heart raced at the enormity of the range.
Years later I visited the Pacific Northwest for the first time and as we were flying in to Seattle, I caught glimpses of Puget Sound out the windows of the airplane. I couldn't wait to get to actually go to the beach and see the water.
You know what I'm talking about. That feeling of excitement you get when you catch glimpses of things you want to see, things bigger than you and that will leave you with a sense of awe.
I long for the Kingdom of God. I for that time when nothing else will exist except God and his presence, when he will wipe away every tear and their will be no more pain, suffering, sickness or death. Yet every so often we get glimpses of this, if only we open our eyes and our hearts to recognize them.
Several times in my life I have had to do something I felt totally inadequate to do. Once it was directing a teen camp, another time it was talking to someone about their relationship with Christ, (uninvited by the way), another time it was being called to the hospital room of a young couple who's child had been still born. In those moments I felt completely lacking. Yet in those moments, when I realize that I cannot do this on my own, I turned to God. In each of these instances I glimpsed the Kingdom of God because in each of those instances, after I had asked Him to provide strength in my weakness, I saw Him work and felt his presence. It was awesome in the truest sense of the word.
I'm not saying that I see it often, and it only occurs in moments when I empty myself, but if those glimpses are any indication of what the Kingdom of Heaven is like, I can't wait to fully experience it.
Are you catching glimpses?
Powder. Patch. Ball.
This is the lesson from our Men's Black Powder Shoot
In shooting a muzzle loading rifle there are three ingredients for a good shot are; powder, patch and ball. In that order. Here's why.
The powder is the propellant that sends the ball down the barrel toward the target. It has to be put down the barrel first to receive the spark and push the ball the right direction. On top of the powder is the patch, a small piece of cloth that will wrap around the ball. This is important for two reasons: 1)It creates a seal so all the pressure from the exploding powder stays behind the ball to drive it out the barrel and 2) It grips both the ball and the twisting grooves in the barrel to spin the ball so it flies straighter. On top of the patch is the ball, this is the part of the shot that actually reaches out and touches something, hopefully the target you were aiming for.
If those three ingredients are out of order, or if any of them are left out, you shot will not go where you aim, or it may not go anywhere (what we call a 'misfire').
In our Christian walk, we have a target we are aiming at. Our target is actually two fold: we want to spend eternity with God, but we also want to be the kingdom of heaven here on earth. In order for this to happen there are three ingredients: death, burial and resurrection. In that order. Here's why.
When the audience heard Peter's sermon on the day of Pentecost, they asked, "What shall we do?" The answer was repent (death), be baptized (burial) and you will receive the Holy Spirit (resurrection). First repentance has to come. Repentance is the recognition that you are looking at the world and thinking from a worldly perspective. This has to change. You have to die to it. Second is baptism. Baptism is symbolic, but not just symbolic. Something actually takes place in baptism, God removes the sin, washes you clean, and helps kill the fleshly part. Third is the resurrection when we receive the Holy Spirit who lives in us to give us new life.
Only when we have those three ingredients, in that order, can we hit what we are aiming for. If we mix the order, or leave anything out, we will miss our mark or never even leave the barrel.
Are you loaded?
I like to cook, but there are some cooking tricks I still haven't mastered. For example, if you boil chicken in water and want to keep the broth, you have to first skim off all the fat that rises to the surface of the broth. I have tried very carefully pouring the fat off, but the broth slips out from under it. I've tried holding the fat back with a spoon and pouring the broth underneath it, but that hasn't worked very well either. I usually end up just trying to skim the fat off with a spoon, but still not always very successful.
I was thinking about this process the other day as I was singing a written by Dennis Jernigan that is an adaptation from Psalm 42. The words of the song are: As the deer thirsts for the water, Lord, so my soul longs for Thee. My soul thirsts for the living God yes, my soul longs for Thee.And I pour out my soul deep within me, deep within me I pour out my soul. Take me deeper, Lord, deeper, Lord in You. Take me deeper, Lord, deeper, Lord in You.
Notice the words of the second line. "And I pour out my soul deep within me. Deep within me I pour out my soul." My question is, do we really pour out our soul deep within us to God, or do we try to just skim off the parts we want him to have and hold back the stuff we want to keep? I have a feeling that if we are honest with ourselves we probably use a skim method. But God wants us to pour out our souls from deep within us. He wants everything. all we have. And there comes the second line of the chorus of the song, "Take me deeper Lord, deeper Lord in you." I love this image: me pouring everything I am into God and him drawing me deeper into him. Deeper, Lord. Deeper Lord in you.
I Think I Will Take a Mulligan.
I haven't swung a golf club in years. I never really played a lot and was never very good. I kept score based upon how many balls I lost in 18 holes, so for me a score below 10 was good. (Once I even scored a 1!) I never had any lessons for golf. I watched a few videos, went to the driving range and tried to remember all the things my dad had taught me when I was six: keep your left arm straight and your head down. About 20 years ago I played my first round of golf with some fellow students in Dallas. My first tee shot was OK, but off the second tee my ball made a nice arch right into some deep grass and trees. My partner said, "We allow mulligans. I'd take one if I were you". Being new to golf I had to ask, "What's a mulligan?". When he informed me it was a "do over" and that my first shot wouldn't count, I liked golf a little more. Don't you wish life had mulligans? A way you could let the past go and start over? My youth was like that. I wasn't a terrible kid, but I did a lot of stupid things. Drinking, drugs, chasing women, (I say chasing because I didn't really catch any. Man, are they fast!) At one point, I began looking at how selfish my life had been, how little effort I had put into doing the right things, how many people I had hurt or driven away and I thought, "I'd like to start over. I think I'll take a mulligan". Fortunately God grants mulligans. He allowed me to put the past in the past, wash it away and start over. My old me died and I was resurrected. Today we are talking about Jesus' resurrection. The fact that he rose from the grave proves that our resurrection is possible. Not only can we have a new life here, but if we follow Jesus we will have a new life beyond the grave. Guaranteed. My prayer is that you will think about this today. Think about it in the days and weeks to come. Reflect on your life and see if you might need a "do-over". If you want to talk about it, give me a call. I love helping people tee up another ball and take another swing!
Fit For Life
A month ago we started our "Walk in the Son" program where we meet at the mall to walk for half an hour and then have a Bible study. The purpose of this program is to provide incentive to get some physical exercise but also to get some spiritual exercise. And it works! Just before we started "Walk in the Son"; I bought a little gadget that keeps up with how many steps I take throughout the day, how many flights of stairs I climb, tracks my heart rate throughout the day and my sleep patterns at night. It's a pretty cool little gadget and has kept me motivated and provides good feedback on my heart health. For instance, they say that your resting heart rate is a good indicator of heart health. When we started our program my resting heart rate was 74, today it is 64. Now I will admit, I'm doing more than just "Walk in the Son", but that extra 30 minutes of exercise does help! But the program is for spiritual exercise as well, and here the benefits are evident as well.On these days we are studying the book of James. It is a very informal study where we read several verses and talk about how we can put those into practice in our own lives. James talks a lot about being judgmental and how we treat others. I, like most of us, tend to look at someone and immediately put them into some category in my mind. And the categories are not always good. But with our discussions of James, I find myself pausing before automatically categorizingpeople, talking to people more and trying to consider who they really are, not just how they look. My spiritual health is improving.I know you may not be able to join us on Tuesday mornings for "Walk in the Son", but I encourage all of you to find some time during the week when you can get together with a few other people and just talk through the Bible. Not just Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights, but find some other time during the week to be challenged and improve your spiritual health. If you need help, let me know.
A friend of mine called me one day for some advice. He was preaching through the book of Judges and was wanting advice on how to preach the end of the book. If you've never read the book of Judges, its ending is brutally violent. Kidnapping, killing, rape, killing, war, killing and on and on. It's not the things you would expect in the Bible; not the things you would expect to read about the people of God.
If you watch the news these days, and look at what people do around the world, you might see a resemblance with the ending of the book of Judges. Brutal violence. Kidnapping, killing, rape, killing, war, killing. You get the picture. The question is, what causes people to treat one another so violently?
Even in our own country we see acts of violence that we find hard to understand. We also see morality taking a nose dive, things that in the past were seen as just plain wrong are now promoted. I'm often reminded of what Paul says to the Romans, "Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them." (Rom. 1:32)
In my own world it seems that things are falling apart. A couple I hold in high regard has just announced their separation. A young man I knew has recently committed suicide. The newspapers tell of a woman who killed her own child.
So what's wrong with our world? I truly believe the problem is the same problem stated in the very last verse of the book of Judges, "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit."
In think you can substitute "America" for "Israel" and have a pretty good idea of what's going on. The King Israel did not have was God. They had forgotten that God is truly king and look where it led them. I think America has also forgotten that God is truly king and thus we see what is happening. So how do we fix it?
Starting after Easter I am going to begin a series on what it means to be a Christian. This involves making Jesus king of our lives in every regard: work, parenting, marriage, dating, student, and anything else you can think of. I believe that if we truly begin to not only recognize, but serve the true King we can make a difference in our world; first in the Quad Cities, then throughout America and on to the rest of the world.
Wisdom: The Key to Communication
My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding— indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He holds success in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones. Then you will understand what is right and just and fair—every good path. For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you. (Proverbs 2:1-11 NIV)
Several weeks ago I began an email conversation with someone who is struggling with some serious life issues. I've been trying to patiently guide this person toward an understanding of God's love, God's plan and a way to live life accordingly. The problem I have found is that I don't understand this person's thinking at all.We tend to think that everyone thinks like we do, that they see the world the say we we do and that God has a central role in their world just as he does in ours. But the reality is that many people don't see life this way which makes it hard for us to communicate. I find myself saying things and knowing how they will be received only to find that this person hears something totally different because we are approaching life from totally different perspectives. I think this is a problem many of us face even if we don't always recognize it and if we don't ask God for wisdom we may never successfully communicate God's love and his plan to others. I think praying Proverbs 2:1-ll can help us in this regard. We need wisdom, but not just wisdom in understanding God's Word; we also need wisdom in how to communicate that Word to those who have a different worldview than we do. We need to become students of our world and of those who are different from us. Rather than brushing them aside and saying, "They'll never get it" we need to seek God's wisdom for learning to communicate with them.
In 1 Samuel 15 we read how God rejected Saul as king. God had instructed Saul to destroy the Amalekites, to totally destroy everything including "cattle and sheep, camels and donkey"
(vs. 3)."But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fatcalves and lambs - everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed" (vs. 9). I've often wondered why God ordered Saul to destroy all this good stuff. Doesn't it make sense to keep good food, things of worth and value after you have defeated the enemy? I can imagine Saul and his soldiers looking at these fat animals and saying, "I would really enjoy a nice steak, so I'll keep this." But God wants us not to rely on the things we attain, but rather to trust him to provide for us. Notice that Saul and the army were unwilling to destroy what God had told them to destroy. This is the root of the problem. God says, "Do it," but they were unwilling to do it. James tell us to "get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you" (James 1:21). James, being a prophet of God, speaks to us with the same authority God spoke to Saul. So how obedient are we? Do we look at the moral filth around us and say,"but I would really enjoy that, so I'll keep it," or do we trust that God will give us something greater?
A Spiritual Diet
I love it when people make 'innocent' comments that point out a truth we don't really want to hear. For instance, when I got my hearing aid last year the lady who was helping me told me that often people get their hearing aid in flesh color, but they actually hide better if you get them in a color to match your hair and she handed me a set of colored plastic tiles to choose from. I told her I couldn't see behind my ear well enough, so I handed the tiles back to her and asked her to match the color for me. She chose gray.
And then there are those wonderful 'friends' who see you for the first time in a while and say, "You've put on a little weight, haven't you?" This statement wouldn't be bad if you had recently been ill and had lost too much weight, but when you've been perfectly healthy and heavy this is not the statement you want to hear.
But over the years I have put on some weight. My doctor says I'm OK, but I would like to lose a few pounds so I put an app on my phone to help me track my caloric intake and my exercise so I can lose the pounds I want to lose.
I've never counted calories (probably the reason I've put on the pounds) and keeping track of everything I eat has been an eye opening experience. I've also never kept records of my exercise and that, too, has been revealing. The goal is to make sure the number of calories burned in exercise is greater than the number of calories I take in. This equals better health.
On Tuesday morning we are starting our Walk In The Son program of walking/Bible study. The goal is to improve our physical health and our spiritual health. All this calorie counting got me thinking: shouldn't we do the same thing for our spiritual health? Shouldn't we take in more spiritual calories than the calories offered by the world?
Think about how many calories you take in from the world each day: the shows you watch, books you read, music you listen to, conversations you have and thoughts you think. Then think about how many spiritual calories you take in: reading your Bible, meditating on God's word, prayer, service and worship. Which do you get the most of? Keep a record for a couple of days and see what you learn.
Walking In The Son
In his letter to Timothy, Paul says to him, ". . . rather train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come." I have often thought that many of us would benefit from not only our spiritual training, but some physical training as well, and let's be honest, most of us don't get all the physical exercise we need!
Charlotte and I were talking about this Monday, about how we both need to be getting more exercise. You just feel better when you get out and move a little, but with this weather it is hard to take a walk outside these days, so we came up with another idea.
Starting on Tuesday, March 3rd, anyone who is interested can meet at SouthPark Mall at 9:00 am outside the Chick-Fil-A. We will walk for 30 minutes, then meet back outside Chick-Fil-A for coffee and a Bible study. We're calling this, "Walking In the Son."
So put on your walking shoes, bring your Bible and join us for some physical training which is of some value, but training for godliness which has value for all things.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
I was browsing FaceBook the other day and came across a very heated discussion between my nephew and some of his friends. I did not read the article that set the discussion in motion, but it was about a crime committed by a man in the name of Christianity and my nephew had made some comment about it that sparked quite a response from his atheistic friends.
My nephew is a Christian and was trying to defend his beliefs, but I have to say the anger and bitterness of his friends against his "fairy tale god" and his fantasy heaven and hell was acidic. Their arguments were the same one all atheists use: "you can't prove God exists," "God is cruel and wants to send everyone to hell," "Jesus spoke in parables so that people would not understand and repent," "the Bible supports slavery" and on and on. There was also a new charge against Jesus that was new to me: "Jesus promotes child abuse." The reason was that Jesus says we must be willing to leave our father, mother and children to follow him and leaving children is abandonment which is child abuse. I had not heard that one before.
I read the lengthy arguments back and forth, noting that my nephew was doing a pretty decent job of holding his own, but then the charge came that I believe is at the root of most atheism. One young man said, basically, "Who are you to be telling me that Jesus and God are real and good? I've seen the way you live and heard the language you use!"
This goes back to the quote I often use from the 1980's Christian rap band, D.C. Talk. "The single greatest cause of atheism is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips but deny him by their lifestyle. This is what an unbelieving world finds, simply, unbelievable."
Now don't get me wrong. My nephew is not a bad kid. He's pretty typical of most college students, probably not much different that many of us at his age. Probably very similar to how many of us live today, which begs the question:
If you had to prove the existence of God and the truthfulness of Jesus as the Christ by the way you live your life, would others believe? Do your actions, thoughts, words and deeds prove that you believe in God and trust him?
This is not based on how often you 'go to church,' but on how you live your daily life. How do you stand up?
I’m carrying two wallets these days. I know. It sounds funny. It started last Friday when I had my shoulder surgery. I wore my pajama pants to the surgical center and didn’t want to put my big, bulky, five pound wallet in my pants and have them fall off as I walked. So I took out only the few items I needed, (driver’s license, insurance card, flexible spending card), dug out an old front pocket wallet I had in a drawer and put my few items in it. The only problem was that I used to carry a lot in that wallet so it’s stretched out and my few things kept falling out. So I put a few more things in there, my ATM card, my two credit cards, FOID card, concealed carry permit, but it was still loose so I found a rubber band in a drawer, (it came off a bunch of broccoli, but was a good sturdy rubber band so I saved it), wrapped this around my pocket sized wallet and I was good to go. Under a pound so my pants would stay up.
Afterward, I decided to just use the front pocket wallet, but then went to the library and didn’t have my library card. It was still in my old wallet along with all those rewards cards from every store you go to as well as my hunting and fishing license. So now I faced a dilemma. Not everything will fit in the small front pocket wallet, but I was tired of sitting on two inches of plastic. My hips and lower back were getting so out of alignment I feared I might start walking with a limp. So I ended up putting some stuff in a thin back pocket wallet and keeping the essentials in my small front pocket wallet with the broccoli rubber band. Now all is well. Almost.
I never realized how much of a habit my wallet had become. All week when I go to the store I instinctively reach for my back pocket only to realize that my money is in my front. So I dig in my front pocket, move the rubber band and pay for my items. (I’m waiting for someone to tell me how cool my wallet is.) But old habits are hard to break.
I wonder how many ‘habits’ we have that keep us from growing closer to God. Evil, sin and filth that has become so habitual to us that we can’t or won't truly grow the way we need to. Habits that keep the word from taking root in our hearts. James says, “Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.”
Maybe we need to make some changes in our lives so we can see our habits.
Take Blue With You
It was a beautiful summer morning. Clear sky, cool, dry air that would warm nicely as the sun continued to rise.
After breakfast and chores my older brother, Preston, and a few of our friends were heading out to explore the opening to a cave we had found in a canyon a mile or so from our house. It must have looked like a scene from a movie as six young boys, all around 12-15 years headed out to the pasture armed with BB guns, shovels and pick-axes to open what we were sure would be a cave full of wonder. We had heard bats inside the cave and just needed to make the opening a little bigger. Unfortunately for us, (but fortunate in another way), they had quit keeping dynamite at the ranch years before, so we were left to dig the opening by hand.
As we left the house, dad told us to take Blue with us. Blue was our big Australian Shepherd and as long as we had Blue with us mom and dad felt a little safer.
There really weren't too many dangerous critters around, rattlesnakes and the occasional javelina, but mom and dad knew that Blue was very protective of us kids and would keep everything away from us. And he did. If horses, sheep, cows got to close, Blue would chase them off. He did find rattlesnakes as well as coons, possum, porcupines and, quite frequently, skunks. He would bark or growl and we would know to stay away. So dad always made sure we took Blue with us.
I thought about Blue the other day when I was thinking about the need to take Jesus with us every day. Then it dawned on me that we don't need to 'take' him; he's already with us. It's not that we forget to take him, we just forget that he's already there. And since we forget he's there, we forget to listen to him. He doesn't growl or bark when danger is around, but we've all felt that tug at us just before we do something wrong. His Spirit lets us know, but so often we are lost in our own project, our own treasure cave digging, that we forget he's there and we ignore his warning. Then we wonder where those porcupine quills came from or why we smell like skunk. Or worse yet, how we ended up in this den of rattlesnakes!
Patience, my child, patience. I don't remember where I heard that. Maybe it was from a movie or a book, but wherever I heard it, it has stuck with me. And this is where we end with our series of articles on evangelism: patience.
We've talked before about how we live in a society of instant gratification. Movies on demand, microwave popcorn, cell phones and the internet all reveal how impatient we have become. If we want something, we want it now. We want to see immediate results. But we must have patience when it comes to evangelism or we are more apt to push people away.
Building relationships takes time. Acquaintances can be made almost instantly. Friendships develop fairly quickly after a few activities together. Relationships, where lives are shared at a deep level, take time, humility and work. This is the result of the first three steps of evangelism we looked at: getting to know people, starting conversations and opening our homes.
The seeds we scatter may take years to take root. Often it is only in the midst of hardship or crisis that someone will turn back to that seed we planted while looking for something solid to hold on to. This is where we trust God who ultimately produces the fruit. He knows when and where to begin the growing process, we just keep spreading seed and watering.
Not too long ago I read an article about why so many evangelists 'burn out.' The reason is that they expect to see the fruits of their labor in their own lifetime. This is a result of the instant gratification mindset of our time and the desire to know we have accomplished. The article said that if we would take the mindset that we may never see the fruit, but continue to trust God and spread the seed, we will learn patience and not become frustrated and anxious. There's that word: patience. It may not be until after my death, when someone I have been talking with is at my funeral, that they come to realize the importance of making a decision for Christ. That's OK. Even if I didn't get to see them do so in this life I will spend an eternity with them in the next! And that's what it's all about!
Since I started writing these articles on evangelism, I've had several conversations with people who say they just can't do it. They are afraid they won't know what to say, they won't have answers to questions people might ask, or they will make some mistake that will turn people away. I know those fears! I often worry about the same things! The trick is not to let those fears keep us from doing what our Lord commanded: go and make disciples (Mt. 28:19).
I think part of overcoming that fear is to continue reading what Jesus says just after he gives the apostles that great commission: "And surely I will be with you to always, to the very end of the age" (verse 20).
What it really boils down to is trusting God. Trusting that he will be with us, and trusting that he will not only open doors but give us the words to say. Here's an example that happened to me.
Last week, Dorrie and Chelsey were shopping in Kohl's in Davenport. I had requested they go to that store so I could walk over to Gander Mountain. I walked through the store, not really needing anything, and was about to leave but decided to take a quick look in their fly fishing section. As I was browsing, a sales clerk came by with a man who was looking for a fly fishing rod for his son. After the sales clerk suggested a rod I told the man that the combo pack the clerk suggested was my first fly rod and I had been very happy with it. I decided not to try to force the conversation, but to let God direct things and the next thing I knew he was telling me about his son, confined to a wheelchair, and how he is working to get him involved with other men in outdoor activities. I told him about our Outdoorsmen ministry, gave him my email address and told him I would love to meet his son and take him fishing. When I got home, there was an email from him thanking me for my time and expressing his desire to talk to me again soon. I'm anxious to see where God leads this.
The point is; we must trust that God is working! And he's using us to do his work!
In our past several articles we've been looking at how to share the message of Christ with others. We mentioned getting to know people by joining clubs or other means of meeting new friends. We talked about starting conversations with people to begin relationships. We looked last week at opening our homes to grow relationships. This week I want to talk about something more generic, something we can all put into practice everyday with little preparation. The past weeks have focused on thing we can do, but this week I want to focus on who we are.
I mentioned in a Sunday evening sermon recently about something I had read in a book by Randy Harris. Harris said the most evangelistic man he had ever known, (a man who had brought countless people to faith in Christ), told Randy that he had never asked anyone for a Bible study. This flies in the face of what most of us think of when we think of evangelism. We think 'evangelism' is all about inviting people; inviting them to church, to a Bible study, a church picnic or anything else we can invite them to.
But this man never invited. He never had to because people would ask him! How did this happen? It happened because, in his everyday life, he was salt and light. He went around scattering seed, saying what he could when he could, doing things that set him apart from those around him in such a way that people would ask him about who he was and why he was that way. Others noticed his fruits of the spirit and would seek him out for advice and guidance. Once they sought him out he could tell them of his faith.
So here's your challenge this week: scatter seed. As you go about your daily life be salt and light. Speak differently than those around you. Do things that are 'beneath' others. Be Jesus in the midst of the people around you and wait for them to ask. (We'll be talking about patience very soon!)
My decision to become a Christian did not occur in a church building but in a living room. My martial arts instructor, Fred Givens, sat with me in his living room for several conversations and then joined me in my living room for a study of the book of Acts. Many hours of questions and discussions occurred in those living rooms without the interruptions and time restraints of other places.
Much of my growth as a Christian occurred in living rooms: Growth Groups in San Angelo, Brother's Keeper Groups in Dallas, Life Groups in Amarillo and a Monday night Bible study in Everett, Washington all helped me think more deeply about God's word and my life. All these groups met in living rooms and around kitchen tables.
Some interesting things happen in homes. First, there is a very relaxed atmosphere. When everyone starts taking their shoes off, grabbing a snack and getting comfortable in a chair or on the floor, the atmosphere lightens and people open to one another. Second, conversations often get deep because there is more time. Thirdly, friendships form. People get to know each other better in the comfortable environment of a home.
We've been looking at ways to evangelize, or share our faith with others, and this week I want us to think about having people into our homes. Invite friends, old and new, into your homes for game nights, meals or other activities. Begin an 'open door policy' where people are welcome to stop by and visit. You never know where these conversations will lead.
In last week's article I talked about joining a club or some other way of meeting new people, but there are other ways to make new relationships as well.
One way I've started trying to meet people is by talking to total strangers. Understand, I'm really not that outgoing and I really don't like to talk that much, just ask my wife who complains that I can drive to Texas and back without saying a word! But if I'm at a coffee shop or just having breakfast at Hy-Vee I look for opportunities to talk to people in a natural way. I may ask them what they are reading, if they are reading a book. Or if I notice them studying I will ask where they are a student and what course they are taking. Maybe I'll inquire about a fruit that I see someone pick up at the store. ("What is that? What does it taste like? Do you peel a mango before you eat it?)
Just asking people about themselves is a great way to begin relationships. True, you may never see that person again, but if you and they frequent that establishment regularly, who knows, you may run into them often. Then, after several of these kinds of conversations you may be comfortable inviting them to coffee or something else.
Two other points about starting conversations. First, listen. Pay attention to what they are saying and let this lead to other questions. As they say, people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care, and listening shows that we care.
Second, be a friend. They also say, (and no, I don't know who they are), that to have friends you must be a friend, so treat people like they are your friends and you may have some new ones!
Jesus said the second greatest commandment is like the first; love your neighbor like yourself. Let's go out and show our neighbors we love them by starting conversations with them.
Doing The Great Commission
I read several years ago that within two years of becoming a Christian, the only close friends they have are other Christians. This is because they no longer retain relationships with non-believers, (some non-believers don’t want to hang out with Christians or the Christians no longer do what they used to with their non-believing friends), or they have converted all their friends. This makes evangelism difficult since we usually think of evangelism as ‘inviting people to church.’ Once we’ve invited all the friends and family we have, we run out of people to invite.
So how do we go into the world making disciples as we are commissioned to do? One way is to literally go into the world.
For many of us life is pretty routine. We get up, go to work, then retreat to our home as a place of quiet shelter, rest and recuperation. We may interact with a few people outside of work at the store, bank or gas station but these conversations don’t usually evolve into an opportunity to share our faith. So what do we do?
In order to show and share our faith, others need to have relationships with us. We need to find ways to develop those relationships. Here are a couple of ideas off the top of my head:
Join a hobby related club. Card clubs, (preferably not poker), running clubs, cooking groups or book clubs, shooting or fishing clubs, knitting groups, or any other groups or clubs give you an opportunity to meet new people and begin new relationships. If you can’t find a club for your hobby, start one!
Volunteer. The possibilities here are endless. Volunteer for a meals on wheels program, read to kids at the library, volunteer at a hospital. Look in the paper for local activities or events that are looking for volunteers and offer your services. When people work together, they tend to develop relationships. Build on these relationships so you may have the opportunity to share your faith.
I could give more, but I’m out of room. I know our schedules are already full, but isn’t the kingdom important enough for us to give more of ourselves to spreading its news? And didn’t Jesus command us to do this?
If you have other ideas of how to get out into the world and make disciples, please share them with me. I’d love to pass these on.