Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Chain


And if you don't love me now, you will never love me again. I can still hear you saying, you would never break, you would never break the chain. - The Chain, Fleetwood Mac

Reaching the world with the gospel is an insurmountable task, too distant and detached for most of us. Christ commanded us to do it, we don't know how to do it, so we compromise. We give money to missionaries to go and fulfill our commission for us, but we know that there is also a Jerusalem and a Samaria that need to be reached. Even reaching our communities is too large. We talk about it again and again. Many of us get past talking and begin to pray, but almost none of us actually go and do it. There is a way, a way to preach the good news of Jesus Christ, a way that all of us can follow. We can reach the world by reaching one. There is one person in each of our lives that we can pray for. There is one we can intentionally love. There is one we can invite to church. There is one we can share Christ with.

Eight weeks ago over 160 people sitting in our church committed themselves to do that very thing; to love one person for one year with the love of Jesus Christ. Praying, befriending, inviting, sharing. And even that task can seem insurmountable. How do we do even that?

In south Louisiana, the average person has heard the gospel eighteen (18) times before he believes. That does not mean that the first, or second, or 17th sharing of the gospel was ineffective. It means that all of those gospel presentations were necessary links in the chain to get to the 18th time. Every sharing was an act of love, every prayer offered, every invitation, a link in the chain God would use to bring them to Himself.

The answer to the question of how we actually love one person for a year who is lost or unchurched, the answer to the question of how we help anyone follow Jesus is simply this. Love them, tell them, one link at a time, but don't stop. Every link is necessary.

There is one essential quality or condition of the heart that will enable you not to break the chain. It is the love of God in your heart for others. "Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end." (John 13:1) His love for His Father and His love for us empowered Him to take every step He had taken and every painful step he would take with them and for them. And, He did not quit loving them (that's us), even on the cross.

Love them to the end, even if you are not the one who is there when the last link is forged. Don't break the chain.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

I Am Haunted By Waters

Almost every time I mention my passion for fly fishing, someone asks, "Have you seen that movie, A River Runs Through It?" Even thought he movie was a hit, and has become iconic for it's scenes of its characters gracefully weaving their lines across the river, I had never seen it until just a few days ago. And, I am glad, grateful to God for that fact, because I have learned something valuable from it just now.


The movie was released 18 years ago. 18 years ago, I didn't fly fish, and had no desire to do so. If I had seen the movie then I would have enjoyed it, but now, after finding this new joy and passion in the art of fly fishing, the movie was rich. If I had watched it 18 years ago, or just 4 years ago, I would have been moved by it, but this weekend I understood it.

Love is patient. Impatience is not love. If I do not have patience, I do not have love. If I do not have love, all my abilities, giftings, talents, and efforts will profit me nothing. God even says that a life lived impatiently not only profits me nothing, but even defines me as nothing. "...though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing." (1 Cor. 13:2)

Patience is literally "long-suffering." And, how often do we think that our suffering is useless, that it will never end? How often do we ask God why we are suffering, rather than simply rejoicing that our suffering has meaning in His hands? And, how often do we refuse to suffer long with the people around us, making their world miserable and our lives nothing?

I don't know if these words mean anything to you. They are the last words of the novel and movie written by Norman Maclean. "Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters."

They remind me what one of my fly fishing mentors told me. "It is impossible to be an impatient fly fisherman." It is also impossible to be an impatient, and fruitful Christian.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Why Should They Believe Me, Or You For That Matter?

Something must be going on. A few days ago a Baptist church in our area put a door hanger on our door at the house telling us that we were "surrounded by prayer." I think it also invited us to services on Easter Sunday morning.


Yesterday a van full of Jehovah's Witnesses (I'll call them JW's for short) unloaded in front of our house. While they unloaded, I was unloading a load of organic humus for the garden. (That's cow manure for those of you who like things less politically correct.) Thankfully the JW's didn't bug me while I was unloading my humus. They made the rounds to the almost-all-empty homes, hanging their own tracts on front doors. The tract was an invitation to come next Tuesday to a special service explaining the true Jesus.

The question came to mind, "Which one should I choose?" Both groups were apparently devoted to the point of walking the neighborhood and hanging stuff on my door. The Baptists said they were praying for me. The JW's didn't. That's a plus, I guess, but which one should I believe?

Then the more important question, "Why should anyone believe me?"

The Bible says that people don't believe me because of my skillful elocution, which is a fancy-shmancy way of saying that how good I talk in public is not what convinces people. The answer is in the resurrection, and the only part I play in this is whether I am living life in it's power. For the gospel I preach says that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is the power that now courses through my spiritual veins.

Am I surrendered to that power, filled with it, manifesting it, obeying it, and loving with it . . . is there anything people can see in me that would persuade my neighbors to attend our worship services, or listen to my witness, or should they stop in next Tuesday and check out the JW's?

And, are you wiling to ask this question, "For that matter, should they believe me?"

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Mother Of Devotion


"Ignorance is the mother of devotion."
- an old Catholic axiom

In the early days of the Reformation, as the Bible began to be published in the language of the common man, there were debates between Protestants and Catholics over that very issue. The Roman Catholic church wanted its adherents ignorant and in the dark. It felt that only ordained clergy could adequately interpret Scripture, and so the Bible was not made available and the liturgy was in Latin, a language that almost no one outside of the clergy understood. There was a real belief that true devotion to God was not based on knowledge, and that ignorance among the church's masses actually increased devotion to God.

Men and women died for the belief that ignorance is not the mother of devotion, but that knowledge of the Scriptures was necessary for devotion to God. William Tyndale, the first person to print the New Testament in English, was strangled and burned at the stake for his refusal to believe that ignorance is the mother of devotion.

Sadly, many modern evangelicals seem to continue to live by the creed of ignorance. Surveys reveal that few are dedicated to the study of the Scripture or theology. Some go so far as to say things like, "I don't need to know all of that. I like to keep my faith simple." Failing to study Scripture doesn't keep our faith simple. It keeps it shallow, and there is no place in Scripture that supports the belief that our devotion to God is deepened by a shallow knowledge of Him. They say it's not what you know, but who you know. Well, it is also what you know about who you know that matters.


How Close A Friend


Tom was an interesting man; long beard, frequently lit pipe, soft-spoken, a zoo director, and a friend who helped me learn the patience necessary for the living art of Bonsai. He and I and a handful of others gathered irregularly and talk about junipers, elms, boxwoods, and azaleas and how to train them into the visions of balance and beauty that is a Bonsai tree. One day I received a sad call from a friend, Tom was dead. At just 50, a single heart attack had ended his life.

The next time I saw Tom, he was laid in a solid oak casket, dressed in his zookeeper garb, his most beautiful Bonsai on a stand at the foot of his casket, a picture of a falcon on his arm at the head, a falconer glove and his pipe nestled under his hands. I did not know that Tom was a falconer. Apparently most who are are tight-lipped about this hobby. The birds of prey are fragile and valuable and do not do well with many visitors, so their keepers keep them and their hobby quietly.

I also did not know that Tom was a naturalist. I listened as a falconer friend eulogized him, how he believed that Tom had returned to the earth and the elements from which he came. How whenever they saw a hawk fly across the sky Tom would be there, not in spirit, but in essence; his molecules mixed in with the molecules of all things both living and inanimate. His wife seemed to find comfort in those words, and so did many of his friends who were also naturalists. I had known him for several years, but had never taken the time to know him beyond our shared hobby. He was a friend, but I had not taken the time to know him and I had not taken the time to share Christ with him, and as I listened I was not comforted.

While this might seem the time to encourage any Christian who reads this to make sure and take the time to share Christ with their friends, it is not. As I remember how little I knew about Tom, that I could have told Tom the good news about Jesus, I am more concerned with how little, sometimes, it seems that Christians know about Jesus Christ. And, I wonder if, when our lives are over, we will weep over our failure to have put forth the effort to know Him better.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Sandpaper Or Steel


If a sword had a mind, it would not want to be dull and tarnished. That sword would be useless and obscure, and there is no satisfaction in uselessness or obscurity. For the sword to change, it must be removed from the isolation of its scabbard, pushed and pulled across a sharpening steel, and then rubbed until it shines. While what it is on the inside must not change, what it is on the outside must be reshaped or it will remain forever dull and dim.

A dull, tarnished life is utterly dissatisfying. It is useless, and God has no plan for our uselessness. His plan for us is for a future and a hope, a purpose that glorifies Himself and satisfies us in a way we never thought possible.

To accomplish that, He has given us His Word, His Spirit, and His People. While we seem to get the Word and Spirit, the People part of the equation is often more difficult. Proverbs offers great insight into the nature of the relationships God uses to transform us, "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another." (Prov. 27:17)

We are all unique, all square pegs trying to fit into someone else's round holes. God uses that uniqueness, that differentness to create a friction in our relationships that results in transformation from dullness to sharpness and brilliance. When the sword is pushed and pulled against the sharpening stone, both sword and stone are changed.

Isolate yourself from the body of Christ, remove yourself from the friction of others and you will remain dull and tarnished. Submit yourself, as Scripture says, "one to another" and you will be sharpened as will those who sharpen you.

Only the Word and the Spirit can change our hearts. Our identity is secured only by the blood of Christ, just as the sword is forged in the fires of the furnace. What we are outwardly, though, is changed through the friction of relationships.

One warning, though. Some of us are not prone to isolation. We are committed to the process, but we may begin to think of ourselves as sharpening stones rather than swords. We may give ourselves permission to be rude, irritating, or unkind. Iron sharpening iron is never permission to be sandpaper.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Mysteries Of God




A quote on the cover of the new Joshua Harris book, Dug Down Deep, reminded me of what the "mysteries of God" truly are. Harris wrote, The irony of my story is that the very things I needed, even longed for in my relationship with God, were wrapped up in the very things I was so sure could do me no good. I didn't understand that seemingly worn out words like theology, doctrine and orthodoxy were the pathway to the mysterious, awe-filled experience of truly knowing the living Jesus Christ.

When the apostles speak of mysteries in Scripture, they do not mean things which we cannot know. They speak of things that have been revealed, the deep things of God that He desires for us to know. What follower of Jesus Christ does not want to experience the awe-filled experience of truly knowing the living Jesus Christ? Yet, these mysteries are not found while skimming Scripture or simply sitting in a worship service or Bible study. These mysteries, revealed by God to His children, are not known by them unless they dig deep into His Word.

Many will drive for hours to a conference or concert, fast and pray for an "outpouring," and then spend no time at all finding the truly miraculous mysteries of God revealed in the study of His Word. Why are we so slothful when it comes to the study of God? Is it that we fear facing our own ignorance? One of the greatest griefs in the life of a pastor is the refusal of those under His care to put forth the effort to discover what God has revealed. One of his greatest joys is to see and hear the excitement of those in his flock who are discovering the mysteries God has revealed.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Unpardonable


"For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." - Jesus, John 3:17-18

Nothing so quickly reveals what we truly believe than what we judge to be unpardonable. The only sin God cannot forgive is the unwillingness to believe in the One who came to die for all the sins we have judged unpardonable, including the sin of making our own list of unpardonable sins.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Overcorrection


Ok, this is Daylight Savings Time Sunday. One of the most confusing Sundays of the year. And, I am confused. I set my watch forward last night and my phone and I turned off the auto-set feature in my iPhone's settings so that it would not jump ahead, but something happened. Somehow in the confusion of this morning, I have now found myself springing ahead two hours rather than one. The result? I am sitting patiently in my study waiting for people to arrive at church. On this DST Sunday, I WILL NOT BE LATE! That is good, since I am the pastor. I have way overcorrected.

Sometimes we do that with God. We overcorrect and think that in doing so we are pleasing Him. If someone else gives 10%, we'll give 15%. If someone else gets there early to pray for worship services, we'll get there before them. If God says don't commit adultery, we'll take a vow of celibacy forever.

Granted, most of us don't have that problem, but some of us do. And, most of us have it periodically. We're like those whose spiritual mantra is "Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle," (Colossians 2:21). There are some things that we are supposed to "do not." But, making "do not" our goal will just lead to failure. Paul said that these things "have the appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh." (Col. 2:23). I don't mean to throw stones, but the vow of celibacy that some clerics in some religious groups have been required to take have done little to stem the tide of sexual abuse by those same clergy.

Overcorrection is not the answer. It's one of the most common reasons people have automobile accidents and it will lead to a wrecked life, too. The answer is not focusing on what we should "not" do, but rather focusing on who we "should" follow, and Paul summed it up this way, "Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh." (Gal. 5:16) Understand this. Our old nature will always prefer the flesh over the spirit, because we want to think we are in control and that we can control our sin by our own effort. It just doesn't work.



Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Tigger Trigger


No one has more fun than Tigger. He bounces in and through virtually every scene in Milne's Pooh stories, but he never stays long. His purpose in life is simple, "Bouncing is what tiggers do best."

All of us are on pilgrimages in this world. We have a beginning and an end, and there is a journey in between. Some of us, though, try to take every fork in every road. Yogi Berra's saying, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it," is our philosophy. Our culture has even glorified this lifestyle. To be spiritual is in vogue. I knew a guy in college who was Baptist, atheist, Jewish, wiccan, Catholic and now I've heard he's into Buddhism. And, he thinks that is good.

Some are not that confused. They have settled on Christ, but their Christian walk looks like Tigger. They bounce in and out of every church and Christian experience. One has been a member of over 10 churches in the last 10 years, always following the "spirit." I wonder which spirit pulls their Tigger Trigger.

Some of us who have settled on one church still have a quick Tigger Trigger. We're hot for God then cold. We commit to a ministry, but have never seen one through to the end. We sign up for a Bible study, but have never finished the last page. What's really scarey is when we attribute our Tiggerness to God. It sounds like this, "Well, I know I committed to do this, but now work is busy or God is leading me to do something else."

God said, "Let your yes be yes." He said that we are to be single-minded, not being blown around by every wind of doctrine. Tigger looks fun, but serial marriage (one right after another) is not fun and does not glorify God. Tigger appears joyful, but never finishing what you start leaves you with a pile of unfinished business and broken relationships.

Get rid of your Tigger Trigger. Make your goal finishing, not starting. Make your aim faithfulness, not experiencing another spiritual experience. That glorifies God.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Like It Or Not


Last week I met a Russian Orthodox priest in Arkansas, named Father George. I know, it's amazing who you can meet on a fishing trip. I asked him to explain the difference between Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity. I knew some of the history, but it was interesting to get it from an Orthodox priest. There are many differences, and he told me that the two are not in communion with one another. I did explore his beliefs about their veneration of Mary and also asked about all the icons. I won't go into it here, but I did learn one interesting thing about this iconic icon of Jesus that is from a monastery on Mt. Sinai. On our left is Jesus' loving face. On our right is the face of Jesus when one day He will judge. Do you see the difference. Interesting, isn't it.


So much for interesting stories. Like it or not, people do not believe or disbelieve in Jesus because of icons, but some of them believe or disbelieve because of us. I know, each man is accountable to God, and no one will be able to stand before Him and use the excuse, "Well, that Christian was such a jerk that I didn't believe in You, God."

The fact remains that Jesus said when we loved one another people would believe that we are His disciples. He said that we are now salt and light in the world, but we can unsalt the salt and hide the light.

How we act, every moment of every day, reflects the Lord to a world that does not know Him.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Inopportunity





Inopportune: inappropriate or ill-timed; not opportune Inopportunity: walking back to your SUV after a long day of fishing and being caught by an old man who just needs to talk; as in, "what happened to me yesterday as my son and I walked back to the SUV"

Lee is in his late 80's. He has five children and a wife who is not that wild about spending two weeks in a camper in Oklahoma. He spent his life working for a major airline, making sure that airplanes had peanuts, pretzels, and ready-to-eat meals to serve flyers. He's from Michigan but has retired in Texas. He also has vertigo, which is why he mostly fishes from the shoreline. Losing your balance in the middle of the stream can be a little dangerous. I know much, much more about Lee, because he told me as we stood on the side of the Evening Hole yesterday afternoon. I don't mind listening. I have learned to do alot of that, but my son was with me and it was his 13th birthday, and, please forgive me, but I was a little more focused on my son than on Lee. I was in the middle of an inopportunity and tried to find my way out. That's when it happened. Lee really opened up about his heart.

"My son gave me this really nice rod and I just broke it, shut it in the trunk. I got really discouraged. I don't have alot of money, but I thought about just buying another and not telling him. I thought about just going home. Then I thought, 'that wouldn't be right.' Then I asked myself, 'Lee, why is it that you are so down? It's just a rod.' It dawned on me. I didn't want to disappoint my son."

I was tempted to say, "Well, I bet that if your son cared enough about you to give you that really nice rod, he would certainly understand, he certainly loves you more than the rod." I didn't, though, because I don't know anything about his son. I did, however, notice that his rod (now pieced together with duct tape) was exactly the same brand as the one I carried in my hands. I smiled and said, "Lee, you don't have to worry. The company you bought it from will replace your rod. They replaced mine just last summer when I did the same thing you did."

"Really?" Lee asked. I assured him that it would be o.k. He said, "Yes, but I'm still gonna tell my son. He's the one who bought me this really expensive rod." I then said, "Lee, let me tell you what someone else told me one time. There are only two kinds of fly rods; those that have been broken, and those that have not yet been broken." You would have thought that I just decoded the Rosetta Stone or something. His mouth opened wide, he put his old hand on my shoulder, and he said, "Thank you. That makes everything better. You know, that applies to just about everything in life, doesn't it?"

Lee went on to talk about some conversations he had with an old friend, conversations that had broken his heart. He talked about his love for God and his family. Another man came by and talked to him and I had a way out, even tried to excuse myself, when I saw a ring on his finger. It was exactly like the cross ring I wear on my right hand. Then I noticed his wedding ring. It was inscribed with exactly the same Hebrew verse as my wedding ring. He just kept talking and I said, "Lee, I have to interrupt you." "Oh, I know, you need to go," he said. "No," I told him, "Look at that ring and the one on my hand and look at that ring and the one on my other hand." His mouth dropped open again and we just kept talking.

I could go on and on because the conversation went on and on about faith, his discouragement with fake religion and his desire to live life right. Again and again he thanked me for telling him how to get his rod fixed, how much easier that would make telling his son, how proud he was to catch fish even with a broken rod.

Sometimes, I fail to see the opportunity within the inopportunity.




Tuesday, March 2, 2010

And That Matters?


I have spent enough time on the river I'm fishing this week to study and learn it. At least I had learned it until a flood blew it out last year. The whole landscape changed and we are having to re-learn it now.

Today, as we walked from one section of river to the next I thought, "Man, if I just had weekends off, I could spend alot more time learning this river." And the next that was, "And that matters exactly how much in eternity?" This picture is of my son last August as we made our way down to the river. Time with my son matters, but how I spend it determines its value in eternity.

If I were off on weekends, he and I could fish this river and many others. We could become experts, learn the hatches, the rises, the lairs of the fish. We could become trout experts. And then one day we could stand before God and demonstrate our expertise to him.

Since I am not off except a couple of weekends a year, I don't get to fish as much as I'd like. But, that does not mean I cannot spend time with my son. I absolutely love these days we have together on the river, but there are over 300 others during the year we spend together, too. I do not resent my calling. My children do not resent it, because this is what we do. We follow God, and we serve God's people. And, in the end, following Him, teaching my family to follow Him, and helping others follow Him is all that matters.

Maybe you occasionally join me in asking the same question Peter did, wondering if all we have given up for His sake is worth it. To which Jesus replied, "Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last and the last first." (Matt. 19:29-30)