There's a Hole in My Boat

He was admiring the boat.  I was trying to distract him away from the details by standing farther away, asking questions about his own boat experience, and acting somewhat nonchalant about the boat itself.  As he got closer and ran his hands along the top deck I could feel the anxiety in me escalate.  “Yeah . . . I certainly made a few mistakes on it.  If I were to ever build another one I would certainly do many things differently.”  

The boat I am referring to is a seventeen foot sea kayak that I built some twenty years ago from mahogany marine plywood.  It is pretty.  That’s why I have always wanted to have it hanging somewhere in the house.  But there are things about it’s construction and wear that only I know.  I’m embarrassed by the neglect that the boat endured for about five years as it sat either under the house or out in the elements.  There are dark rings around some of it’s copper fittings that indicate the beginnings of rot.  There are seams where water got under the fiberglass tape creating a pocket for more rot.  There are deep gashes where I didn’t see an underwater stump or launched it from a too rocky shoreline.  There is the hole where the seat back screw pulled out from the wood.  And then there is the slight curve in the keel line where, when I was in the build process, I clamped it too tightly and didn’t see that it was a little bit crooked.  I remember its christening when I wondered if that mistake would effect the way it paddled.  I’m still not sure it does, but there are times when I blame a small pull toward starboard on that miscalculation.  

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As I tried to distract my friend from seeing the imperfections of the kayak, I realized that I do that for myself.  The closer people get, the more I realize that I want to cover up about my flaws, my past, my ongoing struggles.  I don’t mind people admiring me . . . from a distance.  But as soon as they get closer, I get nervous.  The smallest flaws take on the attributes of open wounds.  In my mind I become a grotesque figure - an Elephant Man - to the onlooker.  I want to distract, tell a joke, or offer a plate of Triscuits and pepper jelly.  

That’s not living in the freedom that Jesus offers is it?  Yet all Christians struggle against the idea that they are somehow lovely, lovable, and loved even in their temporarily marred and mauled condition.  The good news of Jesus patiently breaks us from those chains prying our hands off the walls of despair.  We forget what the justifying work of the cross has done in the past (He made Jesus to be sin for us) so that we will live in freedom in the present (that we might become the righteousness of Christ).  

Grasping such news makes the fear of man’s assessment of us a thing not worth noting.  It also frees us to have the confidence to not make the same assessments about others.  Such freedom helps us to be vulnerable and not only not hide our flaws, but to express our flaws fully in order to find the healing power of Christ’s forgiveness (James 5:16) and to extend His healing power to others (2 Cor. 1:3-6).

Maybe the next time someone begins assessing my boat I can boldly, laughingly, and intentionally point out my mishaps, gashes, and rot knowing that it has been used well and is seasoned by memories of grace and beauty.  Maybe, and by God's grace, I can remember the same about myself.  

What role does God's law play in my life?

Have you ever been a victim of injustice or victimized unjustly?  Someone misapplied (or over applied) the law against you, or you misapplied against someone else?

  • It could be civil - an officer falsely pulling you over or treating you with a bias.
  • Cultural - someone judging you for the manner in which you say or do something.
  • Moral - someone assuming something about you that wasn’t true.

The flip-side is we often treat others with injustice.  We long for mercy ourselves while we seek justice against others.  We condemn for a speck in another’s eye while we have a log in our own.

Paul wrote Timothy warning him against some elders who were using God’s law unlawfully . . . that is, they were taking something good (God’s law and word) and using it against people for their own benefit.  

If we are going to be a people who demonstrate justice and mercy then our understanding of the purpose of the law is vital.  So . . . what is the purpose of the law of God?

 

 

Here are three pictures to illustrate:

A Bridle

In the first use, the Law restrains sinful behavior and promotes righteous behavior. It keeps people from doing things like murdering each other and stealing each other’s property.

In this use, the law functions much like a strait-jacket. It restrains people’s behavior.  But this is external.  The law’s function in this capacity does not penetrate the heart. It is mere behaviorism.  God, through the authority which he grants to common societies and governing authorities, restrains evil in the world. Paul speaks of this in his epistle to the Romans (13:1-7). Do what is good and you will have praise from rulers and governing authorities; do what is evil, and you rightly fear (vv3-4). 

A Mirror

Here, the Law functions as a means of grace in driving people to see their need of Christ and His righteousness. For the unbeliever, the perfect moral Law reveals one’s sinfulness and inability to keep God’s Law. For the believer, the perfect moral Law continues to reveal our sinfulness and inability to perfectly keep God’s Law. In this second use the Law shows our need for Christ and His righteousness – an alien righteousness that is not our own, but can be ours through faith. The Law shows our need to be justified by faith in Christ.

In Romans 7 Paul said, “It was the law that showed me my sin. I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, “You must not covet.” But sin used this command to arouse all kinds of covetous desires within me! If there were no law, sin would not have that power. At one time I lived without understanding the law. But when I learned the command not to covet, for instance, the power of sin came to life, and I died."

After our sinfulness is revealed, the law points us to where righteousness may be found: Galatians 3:24 "So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith." The King James version reads, "Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith."  

A Flashlight

The law shows us the way to live as believers in Christ. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:103-105).

The law is the revealed will of God for His people. Only believers in Jesus who have God’s Spirit are able to keep it properly. The Psalms begin with this (third use) understanding of God’s Law: “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:1-2).  Through faith in Jesus Christ, we see God’s law in a new light: purposing to love God, we keep His commandments, and His commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:2-3).  

This third purpose of the law leads the Psalmist to delight in the law of God: How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:103-105).

In summary, Steve Brown of Key Life ministries writes, “What does it mean to be radically free in Christ? It means we are free from the rules we thought bound us to God. It means we are free from the manipulation other Christians use to make us like them—free from having to fit into the world’s mold, free to be different.  We are free from the slavery of religion and from the fear of rejection, alienation and guilt. We are free from the fear of death. We are free from masks, free from pretense, free to doubt, free to risk, free to question. It means we are free to live every moment. But, most of all, we are radically free to follow Christ, not because we have to but because we want to.”

Hymn-writer, William Cowper, penned this stanza in Love Constraining to Obedience:

“Then all my servile works were done

A righteousness to raise;

Now, freely chosen in the Son,

I freely choose his ways.”

We are called to extend the mercy and justice of Christ to others just as He has extended mercy and justice to us.  In order to do that, we must learn how to use the law lawfully.  That is, we must know that the law is not to be used against people, but for people.  It welcomes sinners to find Jesus as their only means of righteousness.  To think lightly of the law and sin is to think lightly of Jesus and true justice.  To think only of the law is to neglect the mercy of God for others. Walking in righteousness from a motive of delight in Christ's righteousness on our behalf, demonstrates both the justice and mercy of God.

Strong and Courageous?

I am not a courageous person.  I am like Esqueleto (Nacho Libre’s sidekick) who circles his opponent in the ring for fear of getting gut-punched or killed.  I duck from harm, hide from confrontation, and plead “uncle”.  I have to confess that in the past year (or more) I have avoided the ring like my dog avoids her kennel.  Given the opportunity I have tucked tail and run.  I have been holed up for fear of getting cold-cocked from the shadows.    

What that has meant for the church is that I have, at times, been absent.  It’s easy to hide behind sermon prep.  I can close my office door and read and write and look busy when in fact I’m just avoiding people and the confrontation that often ensues.  

But lately I’ve been praying for a renewed courage and a new zeal for ministry (Will you pray with and for me?).  I’m beginning to lift my head again and seek out friendships so that I have a place to be honest and where I will receive honest evaluation.  Could this be an ounce of “strong and courageous”?  I sure hope so.  

But my real hope is that it is not in the strength or courage of my own, but because of His promise that “I will never leave you or forsake you.”  It’s a repeated phrase of God to His people.  Moses said these words to Israel in the transition between himself and Joshua.  Moses spoke from experience.  From the outset of Moses being called, reluctantly at best, he found God faithful.  God raised Moses up as a leader, took the people, under Moses’ direction, out of the slavery of Egypt.  He led them through the wilderness.  Now Moses is at the edge of the promised land and says in Israel’s hearing, “Be strong and courageous.  Do not fear or be in dread of them (inhabitants of the promised land), for it is the Lord your God who goes with you.  He will not leave you or forsake you.”  

When Moses dies, the Lord quotes Moses to Joshua (What?!  Not Keller?)that he might go into the promised land courageous and trusting: “I will not leave you or forsake you.  Be strong and courageous . . .”  

Through songs that the Lord's people would sing, Psalm 94:14 reminds God’s people that though they undergo hard discipline from varied angles, “ . . . the Lord will not forsake his people.” 

But the greatest fulfillment of that promise comes in the New Testament.  At the birth of Jesus we are reminded of God’s word through the prophet Isaiah that a baby would be born called Immanuel, or ‘God with us’ ” (Matthew 1:23).   “I will never leave you or forsake you” takes on greater meaning when “God is with us.”  In Matthew 2:6 we are told that through this Immanuel He provides One who “will shepherd my people . . .”  A shepherd doesn’t abandon or leave the flock but protects and guides.  

Matthew then records the life and ministry of Jesus culminating in Christ’s laying down his life and taking it up again because He loves His people.  The very last verses of Matthew’s gospel read:

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.  And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted (Hey.  That’s me!).  And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

It’s not an easy task to make disciples, baptize them, and teach them all that Jesus has commanded.  There will be heartache, persecution, and suffering.  But Jesus has said, in essence, “I will not leave you or forsake you.  Be strong and courageous.”  

Lastly, the writer of Hebrews says it again to encourage Christians who are tempted to trust in the things of this world for their ultimate comfort (like closed office doors): “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’  So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’”

We all need to hear and trust Christ’s promise of His very active presence with us.   In that we can be strong and courageous in the strength of Christ for what He has called us to do and bear.  I am writing these things hoping for change in me and in us.  Sometimes saying it out loud is the beginning of repentance.  Will you pray for me as I pray for you?  

 

The Importance of Public Worship

Working through John Owen’s Thinking Spiritually in a men’s study, I was encouraged by a few thoughts.  I hope you find them helpful as well. 

 “I have never known a believer to prosper spiritually who neglected public worship.”

-  John Owen, Thinking Spiritually

Why and how does a believer in Jesus Christ prosper spiritually because of participation in public worship? 

1.   Public worship consists of all of the means of God’s grace.  Throughout the week the Christian should experience droplets of grace through the given various means. Bible reading, prayer, listening and singing hymns, and spiritual conversations with others should be scattered Monday through Saturday.  But public worship on Sunday provides a waterfall of His grace.  Not only does the believer participate in the grace smattered here and there, but a great deluge should flood the heart during worship. 

In addition to private Bible reading and prayer, the attendee receives teaching and preaching which both declares the truth of the Bible and applies that same truth in a corporate setting where all hear and are called to respond together.  Prayers are prayed for the whole gathering.  Gifts are extended to benefit the whole through corporate singing, instrumentation, giving, and service to one another.  The grace of fellowship is magnified in corporate worship as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ visit with one another.  The opportunity is there for deep conversation and to be challenged toward hospitality one to another.  The sacraments of the Lord’s Supper and baptism are only present (or should be only present) during corporate worship.  Together we witness the remembrance of Christ’s life, death, burial, and resurrection and share in the cup and broken bread together in union with Christ and in unity with each other.  As a person is baptized (whether adult or child) we are encouraged to reflect on our own baptism . . . how we have been washed clean and renewed by the Spirit on the initiation and power of Christ alone.  Rather than singing alone, we lift our voices together with others harmonizing in joyful noise.  We are singing God’s truth to one another, for one another, and to be heard by one another and to hear God speak. 

And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47).

2.    A person just going through the motions of worship having no desire for a growing faith, or a stirred love, or new found joy will not be encouraged by worship.  It will be dull no matter how well delivered.  On the other hand, a person expecting to be encouraged will be so no matter how poorly presented if the gospel is present.  Because the believer finds their faith, love, and joy in God, worship encourages them.  It is a new and regained strength for them.  They desire to go into the house of the Lord because they know good things reside there.  They seek out the pearl of great price and find it even in the darkest waters and deepest muck. 

I was glad when they said to me, "Let us go to the house of the LORD!" (Ps. 122:1).

3.  There is increased delight when a believer enters worship and receives the means of God’s grace expectantly.  God’s Word does not go out to return void.  It hits its mark on the believer’s heart and produces new graces.  Sins are exposed, grace poured in, and the believer sees Christ’s righteousness on their behalf again and again to restore them in their greatest joy.

“God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).

4.  Believers can also delight in worship because they know that it glorifies God.  The Christian’s highest end is to make more of God than anything else in the universe.  Christians are to have no other god before the one true God.  He is their life-breath and their sustenance and they acknowledge such through worship.  Worship that goes through the motions but has no heart engagement is detestable.  It’s feigned worship.  It’s a lie.  It says, “Look at me,” rather than looking to Christ. 

“I will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart” (Jer. 24:7).

5.  Corporate worship can turn a cold heart warm.  The obedience of attending corporate worship (though the heart may be stale and a mere going through the motions) can find that Christ meets them there and changes their entire disposition.  How many times have we entered worship unfit in heart and mind and found ourselves fitted with grace that comes from the truth of Christ for us? 

“Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress! Incline your ear to me; answer me speedily in the day when I call” (Ps. 102:2)!

 

 

Trick? Or treat?

 

Here is my annual Halloween post.  Since our sermon topic last week and this week is cultural engagement, it seemed appropriate to post this once again.  

What are we to do on Halloween as a believer in Jesus Christ?

Let me say at the outset that I understand that people have different convictions regarding Halloween.  And I also know that it is good to be challenged by the Scriptures in those convictions so that we are “thoroughly equipped for every good work”.  My own practice of the day (or night) of Halloween is constantly transforming and I would hopefully never say that my way is the right way.  With that said, please allow me to help us think together through (somewhat humorously . . . I hope) a balanced approach to Halloween.

Let’s lay out some options:

Option #1: Run/Hide Method

This option, along with option #2, is the easiest option requiring much less thought than the others.  You simply turn out the lights, go to the basement, and eat pizza by candlelight until the mayhem is over.  Or, you turn out the lights, leave, treat the kiddos to dinner and dessert (you’ll need to appease them with something), and pray no one eggs your house.

Option #2: If You Can’t Beat’em, Join’em, or . . . Ignorance is Bliss.

Just give in and join the masses.  The only real decisions here are how much candy to buy and in what costumes to dress your offspring or what to allow them to wear.

Option #3: Quick! Find an Alternative!

This takes a little research, or at least a little church history knowledge.  Martin Luther tacked his 95 Theses on the Wittenberg Door in Germany on October 31, 1517 sparking the Protestant Reformation.  This is a nice alternative with a Christian twist . . . your kids can dress in monk outfits as you celebrate Reformation Day!  Hopefully no one will mistake them for Jawas from Star Wars and strike them down with a light saber.

Option #4: Quick! Find an Alternative! Take 2

If option #3 is more of a “thinking Christian’s” alternative or too theologically-driven, then #4 is a more broadly evangelical approach.  The common name is “Trunk or Treat.”  The idea is to provide candy from the trunk of member's cars in the church parking lot for all who would participate.  Clever.  Here, churches typically cater to their own members who have a conscience about Halloween and any on the outside who may have tighter morals.  Or they cater to parents whose consciences bother them and they want for their kids what they themselves feel they should do or be.  Or, it invites greedy hoodlums who prey on the vast generosity of naive church-types.  This option is mildly evangelistic.  

Option #5: Quick! Find an Alternative! Take 3

This option is the more overtly evangelistic.  Use all of the world’s devices of gore, blood, and terror then claim it in the name of Jesus.  Name it something like Hell-House, Hell-o-ween House, or Gehenna for Good.  Host it as a haunted house in the church building and then give a fiery sermonette to “scare the hell” out of the kids as you have them dangling over Hades.

Option #6: Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

This one requires the most thought and introspection.  It demands us to think through our natural sinful inclination to avoid conflict, serve our own wants and desires, and to avoid thinking critically about the day, events, and people around us.  This option drives us to reflect on the fact that this is the one day of the year when the vast majority of our neighbors are on our streets, coming to our doors, and asking us to join, share, and celebrate with them.  How many times does that happen?  It requires us to think through our motives behind the options we have chosen in the past and what dividends resulted for ourselves, our neighbor, and the kingdom of God.  It requires us to reflect on what we are communicating, not only to our neighbors, but to our own children about how to relate to our neighbors and their friends.  It requires us to be in God’s Word to recognize the grace that He Himself has displayed toward us in coming to us “while we were yet sinners” and to act out of the mercies of God for us as we serve others.  

There is no specific program for this option.  It simply asks us to love as Christ has loved us.  That could take on a thousand different forms depending on our personality, our giftedness, the particular make-up of our street, our children’s personalities, etc.  

In conclusion

I am in no way advocating the worship of Satan, witchcraft, rebellion, or evil of any sort.  That would be sin.  What I am advocating is developing a solid biblically-based conscience toward the kingdom of God and the people to whom He has sent us to be ambassadors for that kingdom.  May God bless your efforts toward kingdom-mindedness this Halloween . . . er . . . Reformation Day.

Bill Withers, Mine shafts, De facto Integration, and the Church

 

My son and I had just dressed our burgers from the charcoal grill and were sitting down to eat when my brother set the needle down on a vinyl.  A silky voice backed by a driving bass and keyboard stole my attention away from the patty.  “Who is this?” I asked.  “Bill Withers,” my brother replied.  How in the world had I missed Bill Withers?  This was the Bill Withers of “Just the Two of Us” and “Lean on Me” fame.  But I had never heard his other music.  That evening set me on course to investigate more of Mr. Withers . . . . which led me to a YouTube video interview . . . which led me to contemplate the Church.

Bill Withers grew up in a small coal mining town in West Virginia.  There were railroad tracks running to the mines and, as was often the case in the 1960’s, African Americans lived on one side, while whites lived on the other.  But coal mining did something for integration.  Mr. Withers quips that when you come up from the mine, everybody’s black.  There is more to that quip than just humor.  

The mines threw men into a very dangerous occupation.  “People have to have a certain trust in each other.  People become necessary to each other.”  Outside of the mine was similar.  “We had a telephone and our white neighbors had an icebox.  When we needed ice, they shared.  When they needed to make a phone call, we shared.  It was a de facto integration.”  

Likewise, Christianity is a dangerous calling.  While a Christian’s sins are not held against them because of the substitutionary work of Jesus on their behalf (2 Cor. 5:21), Christian’s are still called to live out an extraordinary lifestyle which mimics their Savior in a world not suited to living to God, but for self.  On the one hand, we are called to do such within a tight-knit community where personal sin is still very real and hurtful.  Like in a mine shaft, what one person does effects those around them, whether for good or for ill.  On the other hand, we live as a community in a world where we are foreigners.  We are to think and act very differently from the world around us not utilizing the same motives and tools for engagement.  

Bill Withers found that coal miners worked for the good of each other.  They had to or else they would die.  Christians ought to think the same way.  When we grasp the majesty of what we are called to be and to do in the world, and for Whom we are called to live, we should become crucial to each other.  What Christ has done and is doing ought to set aside any cultural, ethnic, economic, or gender differences so that we work in unity toward life for ourselves and for others.  Petty opinions and differences fade in the light of the kingdom of God coming in power to usher in a new heaven and a new earth.  

Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Unknowingly, Withers sums up the Galatians call to integrate pretty solidly:

Lean on me when you’re not strong

And I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on

For it won’t be long

‘Till I’m gonna need somebody to lean on

 

Please, swallow your pride

If I have thing you need to borrow

For no one can fill those needs

That you won’t let show

 

You just call on me brother, when you need a hand

We all need somebody to lean on

I just might have a problem that you’ll understand

We all need somebody to lean on

We’re in this life together.  The common goal of the glory of Christ binds us and begs us to fight for one another (and against self-glory) so that our race is not run in vain.  This calls for hand-in-hand worship and discipleship that challenges one another to seek Christ and to live out of the trust that we profess.  It means being vulnerable about our struggles and willing to have others speak into our lives.  It means being compassionate and bold to speak into other’s lives.  It means working together toward an outward expression of our changed lives for the sake of our neighbor.  It means going into the collapsed shaft together to save those who are dying because they are still trapped and breathing in the dust of darkness of self-trust.  It means singing songs together while in the darkness to encourage one another.  And when we come up into the light of day from the mine, we’ll find that everybody who made it out is the same color, baptized into the uniting death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.   

Do you know Christ as your Prophet?

Do you know Christ as your Prophet?

How is Christ a Prophet and what significance does that have for us today?  A prophet in the Old Testament was a person through whom God spoke to His people.  They received His word through various means (Hebrews 1:1) and dispensed His word through proclamation.  

In his book, Blood Work, Anthony Carter writes, 

As God’s mouthpiece, the prophet spoke the words of indictment against the people for their sin (Isa. 1:4) and called them to repentance (v. 18). The prophet pronounced the forgiveness and pardon of God (Isa. 40:1–2). Jesus, as the final and sufficient Prophet, has done all of these for us. He came not just proclaiming the Word of God; He is the Word of God (John 1:1). He came to the world because of sin (Matt. 1:21). He proclaimed our need to repent and believe on Him (Mark 1:15). And He proclaimed our pardon and forgiveness for sin (Col. 1:14).

Jesus, as Prophet, is called the very Word of God in John 1:1.  So he is the One who speaks the word and is simultaneously the word spoken.  He embodies everything the word says by speaking it into existence, being it’s authority, submitting to it’s authority, and fulfilling all of its demands.  For those who trust in Him, He has done all of that for you and tells us all about it as good news (2 Cor. 5:21).

What does this mean for us?  

I regularly fall prey to what others think of me . . . or at least what I think they think of me.  I allow what I perceive their assessment of me to be to rule my heart and drive my thoughts and actions.  These thoughts are typically fear, anxiousness, paralysis, anger, or even bitterness.   I also allow my own assessment of me (which is far more brutal) to do the same:  “I am a joke, a fraud, a fool, unworthy, unfit, a failure, shameful, etc.”

But here’s the reality:  No one but Jesus has the last word.   That means that He has the last word on those whose trust is in Him as their Prophet.  The betrayal of others, the false accusations, the half-truths, the pronouncements of guilt . . . all fall to the last word of Jesus which declares us loved, forgiven, adopted, acquitted, clean.  You don’t even have the last word on you.  You know your failures, your guilt, your betrayals, your judgments.  They are all too clear to you.  But those are not His last word on you.  Jesus speaks more loudly of His new names given to you by His word like beloved (Hosea 2:23), son (Gal. 4:7), daughter (Zech. 9:9), bride (Eph. 5:25-27), lover (Song of Solomon), fellow heir (Rom. 8:17), and friend (Isa. 41:8). 

Let that soak in.  Pray for belief for yourself that God speaks highly of you just as I am trying to believe it for myself.  And, Lord, help our unbelief. 

Evangelism 101: Get Over Yourself

Looking back, I was the kid who didn’t want others to see me sweat or give any opportunity for others to think I was weak or a dork.  For example, in high school in the 80‘s it was embarrassing to have a farmer’s tan.   At least . . . that’s what I thought.  So I did as every conscientious student did and oiled up and laid out to be evenly and sufficiently burned for that Hawaiian Tropic savage tan.  It was so worth the cancer risk.  

What’s ironic though is that the people I admired most were those who didn’t care what others thought.  They were the people who felt free to be who they were.  They were the guys who could flaunt their belly fat with no shame, or wear ostentatious clothes, or wear a tank top to highlight their farmer’s tan.  

When it comes to our ability to tell others about Jesus, we apply the oil in hopes of producing a perfect evangelistic presentation;  no flaws, no sweat, no fat.  So we wait until we’re mature, equipped, eloquent, and charismatic.  But it never happens.  If it does happen, our evangelism stinks because it is contrived, formulaic, and downright self-righteous.  

Here’s the deal . . . If we think we have to have it all together to bring Jesus to others, we will never do ministry at all.  We need to get over ourselves.  In fact, perfecting ourselves actually detracts from ministry because it communicates to others that you have it together and they don’t.  Who wants to be around that?  I hate being around people who I think have it together spiritually, or who think they have it together.  You do too!  

Are you a believer in Jesus?  Go be around unbelievers . . . just as you are.  Befriend people.  Eat with people.  Let them see your flaws.  God is at work in you.  Pray for them.  What you’ll find is that you will get to know people better, love them more, and the compassion that grows in you will show them you care.  You will stumble over your words.  You will say stupid things.  Guess what?  Christ builds His Church and is pleased to use you to do it.  

Genuine Christian community is attractive . . . but it’s not Jesus.

What are the benefits received from genuine Christian community?  All of the following characteristics of Christian community can morph into something beautiful or destructive depending on the health of the group, but at some level, every true Christian community is attractive because of these characteristics and more:

A welcoming people.

Although sinful and flawed and sometimes belligerent, Christian community is generally very welcoming and friendly to all types of people.  I remember with fondness how welcomed I was to attend a community of Christians in my high school days.  These were fun people who made me, a self-conscious introvert, feel a part of a new found family.  The pats on the back, the laughs, and the shared experiences were intoxicating.  Even when I was picked up by the largest senior in the bunch and thrown into a pool in winter (he went with me!) it was done from a heart of camaraderie and I knew it.  It was a place and a people with whom I wanted to be associated.  

A people with whom you can be honest.

A growing and healthy Christian community is one where you can learn to be vulnerable without being ostracized, ridiculed, marginalized, or shamed.  Growing Christians are willing to share their struggles and be mutually encouraging to one another.  They pray for you and ask how you are doing.  This, too, is very attractive since all people have shared sin experiences and are seeking for relief and hope.

A people who will pursue you.

It’s nice to be pursued and Christian community is good at pursuing.  It’s not often that people initiate a relationship to any deep degree.  Christians can be really good at including people who are generally on the outskirts in other circles.  Who doesn’t want people genuinely pursuing us for relationship?  

A people who try hard to exhibit mercy and justice.

Christian community desires and pursues the things that God desires in His people.  When you are wronged, Christian community will pray with and for you and seek to come alongside and extend mercy.  It is very nice to know that we have people who care enough to show concern and be of help.

A people of shared experience.

When Christian community gathers, all of the above characteristics form a shared experience.  Much like an inside joke, which brings those “in the know” to tears with laughter, Christian community provides a joy that is shared by the group.  Time together builds up experiences through shared stories, laughter, tears, struggles, service, and prayer.  That community package is sweet to behold.  

But often Christian community becomes a savior without the person ever having known the Savior.  Because Christian community offers sweet rewards, a person can mistake the benefits of the community over the benefits of Christ Himself.  This is a dangerous prospect.  When the community fails to deliver, what then?  Often, people leave the community, typically blaming the community for not having delivered their perceived needs and desires.  So then, who is their ultimate savior?  What are they idolizing? An idol is anything more fundamental than God to your happiness, meaning in life, and identity.  If Christian community, or the characteristics of Christian community,  become our fundamental hope, then that community has become an idol . . . a Jesus replacement.  

Think, rather, on this . . . 

The reason that the Christian community can be truly welcoming is because their Savior welcomed them into a relationship where they could come in all of their brokenness to find the healing of a heart and new life.  They have trusted in Him and find Him their greatest desire.  

The reason the Christian community can be honest and vulnerable is because they have nothing to lose from confessing their sin and need, and nothing to gain from some sort of reward.  They already have it firmly given in pardon for sin and the alien righteousness (perfection) of Christ bestowed on them.  To be vulnerable for the sake of being vulnerable may ease some tension in a person’s conscience, but it cannot ultimately heal and produce lasting change in their hearts.  Only Jesus can do that.

The reason Christian community pursues people is because they know they have been pursued by Christ.  Their hearts overflow with the good news that they are pardoned for their sin and they want others to experienced the new heart that they have experienced.    To look to community to pursue us pales in comparison and leaves us wanting as compared to God pursuing us and loving us from now through eternity.

The reason Christian community pursues mercy and justice is because God is merciful and just and is producing in them His character.  To look for it in the community rather than in God through Christ, is less than true mercy and justice and will falter and fail.

The reason Christian community has such rich shared experience is because all of their joys and sufferings are seen only through God, who designs all of our experiences for their good and not their ill.  If sought only within community, we will be disappointed when the community fails to exist for our expectations of rich experience.  Christ is to be our vital hope.  

Are we attracted to Christ’s people and what they have to offer, or are we ultimately attracted to Christ?  Does Christian community give us life, or does Jesus?  If we are looking to the Christian community to provide only what Jesus ultimately provides, we will leave the community when it fails to deliver.  The good news of Jesus begs us to look to Him alone for our identity and salvation.     

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The Devil is a Fly Fisherman

MATCHING THE HATCH

Experienced fishermen know that to be routinely successful trout fishing in mountain streams they need to know how to match the hatch.  Upon approaching a stream they watch the air for what insects may be floating on the breeze.  They turn over stream rocks to see what lies beneath.  Hellgrammites, mayflies, stone flies, midges, caddis flies . . . what’s hatching?  On what are the trout feeding this particular day?  The fisherman than fetches his fly box fitted with an array of dainty, often hand-tied, flies.  Hook size, color, floating or sinking, winged or legged; these things matter significantly if the fish are going to be enticed to take the hook.

Satan is an experienced fisherman.  He too matches the hatch in order to lure the Christian into his grip.  

Is your heart given to anxiety?  His fly box is filled with particular enticements in order to stir up your hungry heart which feeds on worry and stress.  He can cast a forward weighted line so beautifully into the pool in which you dwell, that you would never know there was a hook in that enticement.  Do you struggle with bitterness?  Satan will enter the stream on that day when your co-worker receives the promotion for which you were hoping.  How about lust?  The devil has a way of threading in some wife-irritation in hopes that your heart will grab tight to the next cast of a gold-flashing streamer.  Are you prone to covet the stuff others have?  A roll cast lightly delivering a deliciously-presentedpromise of fulfillment will be delivered to your Pinterest board.  Satan knows us so well.  

THE FISH

In the early 1900 Appalachian mountains, poor timber and farming practices contributed to run-off that silted mountain streams and increased the temperatures of the lower elevation waters.  Coupled with the introduction of the non-native species of brown trout and rainbow trout, which could handle the warmer water temperatures and were direct competitors to the native brook trout, the native brookies were forced up stream into the smallest of tributaries.  Today, brook trout are found at the highest elevations, are protected, and it is a delight and trophy to catch one just ten inches in length.  Plus, they are very wary.  A fly fisherman knows that he cannot tie on a flashy large fly to catch brook trout.  The fish are skeptical of anything that does not closely resemble their native food sources.  

Hatchery-reared trout, on the other hand, are feeder-fed on pellets like Purina Trout Chow®.  No joke.  You can Google it.  Here’s an excerpt from an online fishing forum answering the question, I know stocked trout are easier to catch then wild trout, but does anyone have any good tips for fishing a recently (hatchery) stocked small creek/river?” :

“Berkley makes trout hatchery food bait. If you go to a feed supply store and get some sinking fish pellets you just throw a hand full of the pellets to get the fish in a feeding frenzy then cast your line with the hatchery bait on it and fish on. Make sure they are sinking pellets though or they won't work.”

That’s a far cry from the tedium of matching the hatch.  Here is the point:  People who are given in to the glitz and glamour of sin are easily enticed by any temptation thrown their way.  We are fat and content to be caught, gutted, and thrown on the grill.  

But Christians are called and equipped to live differently than the world around us.   How can we be the salt and light that Christ has called us to if we are given to every temptation thrown our way?  

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,

the holy habitation of the Most High.

God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;

God will help her when morning dawns.

Psalm 46:4-5

God sent Jesus to rescue us and the world.  On the cross Jesus defeated death and Satan.  Sin has no dominion over the one who trusts that Jesus paid the penalty for their disbelief, distrust, and rebellion against God.   The power that Satan now has in the Christian’s life is to entice us to be unfruitful by falling prey to the false promises of the world.  Yet God continually draws us, by His Spirit in us, to trust Him . . . to take our eyes off of immediate gratification and look to the better provisions of our Creator and Sustainer.

Though pushed upstream by every destructive human device, the mountain of God becomes our refuge.  The stream becomes clearer in light of God’s voice.  We breath more deeply for the life-giving oxygen of His care.  The reality of our secure place on the mountain becomes our strength.  The promise of "He is with us" is our hope.  Therefore we become more wary of the hints of temptation that threaten to undo us.  We grow healthy and more discerning.  We start to long more for Him than we do the glitter of false promises and provisions.  

The devil may be a fly fisherman but Jesus is our Living water.