Friday, November 30, 2012

Having an artesian faith, sharing the Good News (Matthew 24:14) so that everyone gets wet, with a story from the life's of evangelists Leighton Ford and Billy Graham.

SCRIPTURE: Matthew 24:14 (TM)
All during this time, the good news - the Message of the kingdom - will be preached all over the world, a witness staked out in every country. And then the end will come.

The evangelist, Leighton Ford, tells the following story: “I was speaking at an open-air crusade in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Billy Graham was to speak the next night and had arrived a day early. He came incognito and sat on the grass at the rear of the crowd. Because he was wearing a hat and dark glasses, no one recognized him.
Directly in front of him sat an elderly gentleman who seemed to be listening intently to my presentation. When I invited people to come forward as an open sign of commitment, Billy decided to do a little personal evangelism. He tapped the man on the shoulder and asked, ‘Would you like to accept Christ? I'll be glad to walk down with you if you want to.’  The old man looked him up and down, thought it over for a moment, and then said, ‘Naw, I think I'll just wait till the big gun comes tomorrow night.’
Billy and I have had several good chuckles over that incident. Unfortunately, it underlines how, in the minds of many people, evangelism is the task of the ‘Big Guns,’ not the ‘little shots.’"
Let’s be honest, we have some weird thinking when it comes to the area of evangelism. Specifically, in the area of witnessing is where our struggle takes place. We are reluctant for a number of reasons.

Witnessing is only to bear witness to the truth that is in us based on the experience we have had – nothing more, nothing less. Bearing testimony to what has already accord in our life. Sharing the story of our relationship with Christ.

We share experiences all the time. Sometimes with total strangers. The experience of a great meal, a moving concert, someone famous that has crossed our path, a great deal that we found at so-and-so department store … but about our relationship with Christ? Not so much. We are hesitant, holding back out of fear of rejection or just thinking that that is the responsibility of the “big guns”.

If we are hesitant to speak to the truth that is within us … is it there in the first place? Experience tells us that if the truth does reside in us that we suffer from a strong case of “can’t help its” … we just cannot keep it in. Like an artesian well it just comes flowing out. The joy of the experience of our heart is more than we can keep contained.

I must admit that there are individuals who are more effective, articulate, at the sharing than others, but the simple truth for all of us can be found in the words of one changed man, “Before Christ – a mess … after Christ – a message.” That is the Good News, that is a Kingdom message and if it has been our experience it will flow out of us like an artesian well until everybody gets wet.

Help us to have holy boldness so that we might speak to the experience within us.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

What if Jesus moved in next door? How would we handle it? (Revelation 21:3) ... just something to contemplate this Christmas season.

SCRIPTURE: Revelation 21:3 (TM)
I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: "Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They're his people, he's their God.

When Sir Ernest Shackleton returned to England to report on his Antarctic explorations, he told the king of his consciousness of the presence of God while he traveled lands never visited by man before: “Bending above the oars, struggling through the snow, battling across the ranges, always there was with us Another. He made the difference between triumph and disaster. He brought us through.”

What would happen in your neighbor if a single male moved in next door? He would live simply. Maybe he would attend the various functions at the clubhouse. As he greeted the people, just laying his hand on their shoulders, they felt something surge through them. Maybe they experienced a healing. And the children would run to be with him. They couldn’t be kept away. He invited them into his house and he would be the only adult present.

How would he be welcomed to your neighborhood? What would be said behind his back? Would his motivations be questioned as in, “What is he up to?” Would gossip start flying around the community? One would wonder just how he would be accepted. Wouldn’t we all wonder what he was up to? Wouldn’t we question his intentions with the children? Wouldn’t we struggle over the appearance of a single male, living by himself, and those touches? Strange.

Jesus came in the form of a baby. No fanfare except for the declarations made to some shepherds by a heavenly host. No big deal except for some magi visitation. Nothing unusual. Nothing out of the ordinary. Just another baby being born coming to live with his parents.  Nothing earthshaking. Nothing different, but everything was different. His Bethlehem appearance we can deal with. His Galilean ministry we can handle. His Calvary activities we accept. But moving into our neighborhood … living next door … touching us … gathering our children to himself … well, now that is a totally different reality that we aren’t really ready to deal with.

And yet, why is one scenario different than the other? Why is one acceptable and the other not so much? Would it help with the cry came from heaven declared, “Look!” or would we file that away with the “other” strange things related to this new neighborhood living in OUR neighborhood?

Something to think about this Christmas season isn’t it. Christ is much easier to deal with when it happens on the pages of the biblical record. Christ is much easier to handle if he simply stays in Heaven … but next door? In my neighborhood? That is a different matter … and yet, stranger things have happened.

Okay, we hear that your dwelling place is with us. We get misty-eyed thinking about you as a baby, but an adult male living next door is a little more than we can handle. Help us come to grips with a new reality. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

There's no escape now if we burn our "boats" behind us and make the commitment (Luke 23:46) to go on God's journey.

SCRIPTURE: Luke 23:46 (NIV)
Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

When Julius Caesar landed on the shores of Britain with his Roman legions, he took a bold and decisive step to ensure the success of his military venture. Ordering his men to march to the edge of the Cliffs of Dover, he commanded them to look down at the water below. To their amazement, they saw every ship in which they had crossed the channel engulfed in flames. Caesar had deliberately cut off any possibility of retreat. Now that his soldiers were unable to return to the continent, there was nothing left for them to do but to advance and conquer! And that is exactly what they did.

Do we trust God enough to burn our means of escape? When we really think about that question we discover that the answer doesn’t come easily … nor should it. Committing our spirit into our Heavenly Father’s care is total commitment … no turning back … no escape hatch … we are in it for the long haul regardless of the outcome … we burn our “boats”!

As we gather around the Christmas tree and sing our favorite carols may we truly pause to understand, or at least attempt to understand, just what God was doing in that little baby we call Jesus. This was one of the “no turning back” moments for God in saving the world. Jesus had several such moments in his earthly life, out there in the desert, in the garden, when they came to arrest him, before pilot … but he was in it for the long haul … no turning back … he had “burned” his means of escape. Even on the Cross he still could of turned back – he had that option – we all do – but he chose to stay on the cross, suffer the consequences, suffer the painful death … all for the likes of you and me. No turning back.

This Christmas thing is about us. What God is doing for us through Jesus Christ which comes to a climax on the Cross of Calvary and the empty tomb on Easter. Don’t lose sight of that reality. We get all emotional about family and memories and some of our favorite things. Lost in all of the merriment surrounding this beautiful season is the personal cost to God – his “burning the boats” moment.

He invites us into an indescribable journey, if we would only “burn our boats” and commit ourselves to the journey. So, as we sing our favorite carols this season let us sing with our whole heart, let us celebrate with our whole spirit, let us rejoice with our whole self and let us start “burning our boats”!

The torch is in our hands Lord. We hesitate to torch our means of escape. We stand there contemplating the consequences of our action. Support us as we move towards our “boats”. Give us courage of our convictions and a willingness to give of ourselves totally to the journey you are inviting us to take.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

It's about Christmas - God and Santa Claus (John 1:12) with great insight from C. S. Lewis.

SCRIPTURE: John 1:12 (TM)
But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves.

STORY: by C. S. Lewis
There is a stage in a child's life at which it cannot separate the religious from the merely festal character of Christmas or Easter. I have been told of a very small and very devout boy who was heard murmuring to himself on Easter morning a poem of his own composition which began 'Chocolate eggs and Jesus risen.' This seems to me, for his age, both admirable poetry and admirable piety. But of course the time will soon come when such a child can no longer effortlessly and spontaneously enjoy that unity. He will become able to distinguish the spiritual from the ritual and festal aspect of Easter; chocolate eggs will no longer seem sacramental. And once he has distinguished he must put one or the other first. If he puts the spiritual first he can still taste something of Easter in the chocolate eggs; if he puts the eggs first they will soon be no more than any other sweetmeat. They will have taken on an independent, and therefore a soon withering, life.
There is something about Christmas that brings out the child in all of us. Some of us are embarrassed by that reality and I’m not really sure why. If we were really honest with ourselves we would have to admit that we wish we could still believe in Santa Claus. We lay awake at not trying to imagine just how it would be possible for Mr. Claus to be a reality for this world of ours. Oh, that it would be true.

But alas, reality hits home, we lower our head and say, “That stinks!” And yet there is hope. Read again the words from Dr. Lewis. We can still hold onto Santa Claus and the wonder of Christmas as well as the Easter Bunny and those marvelous chocolate eggs … it is just a matter of priorities. Jesus just has to come first and take up the lion’s share of our festivities.

Jesus coming first? Really? Oh, there are those who say with enthusiasm and much fanfare, “Jesus is the reason for the season” or declare “Keep Christ in Christmas,” but then turn their back on the poor and needy. They look first to the color of the skin of the person. They degrade someone who speaks with a foreign accent. They work to send all the illegals home … regardless of their contribution to our society. They speak ill of those who do not happen to of their faith. But they want to keep Christ in Christmas.

A child accepts people at face value. They make friends easily with everyone. They see nothing wrong with hugging an individual who happens to be black or Hispanic or Muslim. Everybody is important to them … if we will allow them to act on their belief.

God wants us all to be his children, but to be child of God means that everyone is our brother and sister … and I mean everyone. And then as a child-of-God we can truly celebrate Christmas and even Santa Claus and flying reindeer and elves making toys and a magical place called The North Pole … and Grace and Mercy and Forgiveness and Prayer and the great Kingdom of God.

Help us to move beyond our limited vision of your Kingdom to a large understand that includes people of all races and nationalities and even beliefs. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

See through the fog (1 Corinthians 13:12) with an insight from John Ruskin's book, "Modern Painters."

SCRIPTURE: 1 Corinthians 13:12 (TM)
We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

“The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see in a plain way,” said John Ruskin in Modern Painters. “Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy, and religion – all in one.”

It dawned on me after church one Sunday, as people filed out of worship, that my singular task is to help them see a truth that they might have missed otherwise … and to share it in a clear concise way as to leave little doubt otherwise. Boy, it really requires a trusting in the leading of the Holy Spirit doesn’t it. It also requires a keen awareness that there are other truths to be discovered on any biblical or theological issue.

Most of us have our minds already made up. We see what we want to see. Don’t confuse me with the facts. We’ve constructed our own little worlds. We are very comfortable living within that world. Further, we listen only to those “talking-heads” which support our construct finding different ways to lay blame at the feet of others if our “world” some how fails.

A wise individual would readily admit that in this world we do not see things clearly. It is as if we have a perpetual case of cataracts that no surgeon can remove.  We are stuck living in a fog. Within that context we really do need to trust the leading of the Holy Spirit and be open, truly open, to where the Spirit of God will lead us. We need to be ready to change. We should be eager to expose ourselves to a new way of thinking, acting, being … and strike out on a new course in life.

Living a life of faith should be a new daily adventure … a day of discovery … with our eyes wide open and a flexible spirit. We should be ready for spiritual whiplash has God changes our direction.

Come Holy Spirit, open our eyes that we might see, open our ears that we might hear, open our hearts that we might understand, open us to new horizons and new possibilities in our life. Pull us out of our old ways of thinking and doing so that we can all that you have created us to be.