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Risking The First Kiss 

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Everybody… Over here!

Behind much of our past evangelistic methodology has been the conscious or unconscious acceptance of one idea.

“This person’s salvation depends on me… talking… right now.”

I used to think that, but I don’t anymore.  Now does that mean I don’t talk?  (Have we never met?)  Stephanie and I have recently had wonderful and unexpected opportunities to share our experience with the Triune God, how He has changed our lives, and even how to meet Him.  ‘Plenty of talking going on here.

But is talk the first essential thing?  And more importantly, if I don’t say something, is God out of options?  Let’s deal with the second question first.

What is God doing while I am silent?  Is He not clearly visible in the world around us, demonstrating His creative genius in every leaf and sunset?  Is His Holy Spirit not capable, indeed, necessary to move the hearts of individuals?  If I blow an opportunity, does He have no other servants to call on?  How big, or small, do we think God is?

But what about actual verbalization of the gospel message?  That is a command after all.  When do we get around to that?  Evangelism seems to mirror a young couple and their first kiss.  Opportunity, awkwardness, and mutual consent seem inevitably present.  One should force neither a kiss nor a conversation but look for the right moment.   And however clumsy or not the execution, success hinges on the other person’s receptivity.  Timing and willingness are essential.

One correction about kissing though…  Someone leans forward first and risks rejection.  There is no promise it will go well.  You think it will, you hope it will, but…

The same is true in evangelism

So how do we make somebody listen?  We can’t.  Only God can move a heart.  Logic and reason, evidences and persuasion have their place but that is only presentation.  Story after story, passage after passage lead us to the conclusion that it is God who is orchestrating every conversion.  We are just players, and supporting actors at that.

We pray, we listen, and say as much as we can say, when we can say it.  God is already at work.


The weather was appropriate. Cold, rainy… dreary even before I got the phone call. My oldest sister was on the other end. Mom had requested hospice last Friday and Sue decided to drive from Montana to California to join our middle sister, Chris, to wait. The wait wasn’t long. Mom died this morning… a continent away. I hate that.

I guess I should be thankful for Covid. Were it not for the pandemic, I would have been nine time zones away rather than just three. The prospect of finding returning flights and quarantine would complicate things even further but this wasn’t much better. Just the same, I wasn’t there.

For most of history I wouldn’t have found out for months, even years, if I found out at all. On the other hand I probably wouldn’t have moved away in the first place, but I wonder if there is something in my DNA. I can trace my family back to Ipswitch, MA in 1636. John Preston came to the new world to make a new life, pushing into the woods of Massachusetts. Other ancestors joined Daniel Boone as he cut a road across the mountains into Kentucky. We find some in bleeding Kansas and finally in the gold fields of California. After the southern insurrection was over, any who were left drifted west till they hit the ocean, looking for new land and a new life. My people have never stayed put.

Mom and I had this conversation a few years ago and she proudly described us as “westerners.” She didn’t mean cowboys specifically, though some were that, but people who kept moving, taking risks, working hard and never giving up. That was the worst crime, giving up… quitting. You could have a lot of faults and be OK but quitting wasn’t one of them.

Mom was raised in the mountains of Northern California. She rode a horse to a one-room school and could learn as fast as she wanted. She turned thirteen during her freshman year of high school and was still sixteen when she enrolled at Humboldt State. She said they were probably poor but nobody knew it because they were all the same. As she headed off to the “big city” of Arcata (pop. 1800) a family friend gave her a small 32 Cal. pistol to carry in her purse for protection. When mom and her girlfriends walked off campus for some ice cream, she was “packing”. It was another time.

One day the quarterback of the football team and his roommate came by the house she was living in to meet one of the the other girls… and he stuck around. They became an item. Her dad liked him but the old rancher never understood football.

“You hand a man a ball and then you chase him around and all jump on him. If I was him I’d give it back and tell ’em, ‘Keep the damn thing!'””

Dad graduated a year earlier than mom, got a job teaching in San Diego, and then Pearl Harbor happened. Dad enlisted and mom waited. When he finally graduated from OCS, they knew he was headed overseas, and mom was done waiting so she met him in Montgomery, Alabama. They asked the cab diver if he knew a preacher and they were married in that preacher’s living room, his wife and the cabbie as witnesses. She kept that dress for the rest of her life.

I always thought that it was the men who pressed for marriage before they headed into war but another war bride explained that that wasn’t the case. It was the women who wanted to get married, not because they were desperate but because they were afraid that the men they loved would come back broken and refuse to saddle them with an invalid. Mom was one of those women. Mom loved Dad and was willing to take him no matter what.

Mom got a job as a teacher and Dad went to war. Then she got the telegram. Not dead, wounded, and coming home. But how bad? They spent the next few years in hospital and then grad school. Finally a job for Dad came open in little Sonoma. They had one daughter and then two and then me. Dad was the football and track coach, Mom raised the kids. She had friends who volunteered and drank coffee and laughed. She had a forest of roses and flowers bordered the lawn. She took us to church ’cause that’s what you did in the 50’s, and she believed in God. She made a wonderful home for us. My after-school snack was a carrot or a couple of pieces of raisin bread when all the other kids got a candy bar. She fed us healthy before it was trendy… and everything was fried in bacon fat, not so healthy but really tasty. When she finally got the couch recovered after I went to college she wouldn’t let me sit on it without a shirt. (I have no idea…)

She eventually went back to work teaching. She preferred subbing so she could take a break when she wanted, help with Dad’s teams, and in the latter years, spend a few weeks in the fall up on the ranch gathering cattle for her parents. As teachers, mom and dad had the summers off and we spent every one on the ranch.

The year I graduated from university, Dad retired and they moved to the ranch permanently. That was forty-four years ago. They spent more time on that place than in Sonoma. Of her 98 years mom spent sixty at Mountain View. She knew every trail, loved every glade. She knew where the fish would lay and just how to catch them. When she competed with Dad (or any of us) for the biggest catch she’d always win.

When Dad was fading, both my sisters pitched in to help. Steph and I lived in Eugene, and I began to go down on a regular basis to do chores that she seemed to think only a son could do. (“On the way in, pick up a shovel handle, an ax handle, and two hammer handles… You need to replace some things.) I would arrive and there would be a list on the plastic table cloth which covered the table in the middle of the kitchen. The heading was pointed, it was the “Mike List”. I’d spend two and a half days working through that list, editing it as I went. “Someone else can do that…” One time I decided that I would leave the last day for something just for her. I asked her,

“Mom, what would you like to do, just for yourself?”

I’m thinking go out to dinner, see a movie, something in town. She said,

“I’d like to go fishing.”

We headed down to the river and I had to practically carry her back out of that canyon but years fell off her with every fish. She was young again. Powerful, crisp casts put that fly right where she wanted it. She was the mother I remembered from my childhood. Those were the last fish she ever caught.

The last years with Dad she was his caretaker. She was 88 or 89 and driving the mountain roads two or three times a week for his dialysis or her hair appointment. She was a rock star. She seemed immortal, unstoppable… until Dad died. A few months latter her body began to hurt and after her back surgery she moved into Timber Ridge to recuperate… and never left. She would visit her beloved ranch on weekends when someone would drive her out but living alone out there was in the past. Too risky. Too lonely.

So her life ends. A full life. A lifegiving life. These few words can never encapsulate 98 years and all the ups and downs but… my mom died today… and I had to write something.

Doing Justice

“Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.” James 4:17

When I was a teenager I spent a lot time in places I wasn’t supposed to be, doing a lot of things I wasn’t supposed to do.  (That’s sufficient detail.)  During those years, I had the opportunity to make the late night acquaintance of several police officers in a couple of different jurisdictions.  I have no horror stories.  I was always treated with respect, and even kindness.  There were a couple of times when, should I have seen the inside of a courtroom, conviction would have been certain… and I wasn’t even charged.  I have lied to a cop while being booked… and been caught lying… and turned loose before the sun rose.  (But the tongue lashing was severe and the warnings dire.)   I doubt that a black teenager arrested in Santa Rosa at midnight in 1971 would have had the same story.  This is white privilege.  

The summer after high School my parents were 200 miles away working on my grandfather’s ranch while I stayed at the house and worked a day job.  In the evenings people would come over for some loud relaxation and a few times a police officer knocked on the door later in the evening and sent everyone home.  They then stood by as my buddies staggered to their cars at various levels of sobriety and drove off.  The next day we would revel in being “busted by the cops”.  However, I’m pretty sure that had we been minorities or had an accent of some kind, “being busted” may have included something more consequential.

And where were those minorities anyway?  All the cities around us had loads of ethnicities but not Sonoma Valley.   There were the two Chinese-American families and some people with Spanish surnames but everybody else… everybody else…  was white.  I found out later that the real-estate agents had made a pact to not show houses to minorities.  Banks would not loan, insurance salesmen wouldn’t sell.  White privilidge was mine and I didn’t even know it.  But it was still mine.  I  could enjoy African-American music and envy athletes of color from the safety of an apartheid existence I was comfortably unaware of.  I could be sympathetic to the civil rights movement without having to participate in it.  I collected social virtue at bargain prices.  

And there’s more.

All that was when I was young and ignorant and usually guilty of something.  Today it is still beyond my imagination that I would ever be treated unfairly, or even suspiciously, by the authorities.  None of my white friends have.  There are no family stories of innocents wronged.  Not once in any interaction with a policeman have I wondered what would happen.  I am polite and expect politeness in return… and get it.   I have never seen a night stick in a hand or a gun drawn except on TV.  If asked to “exit the vehicle” I would do so confidently.  I know it is going to be alright.  I know.  

That is part of white privilidge and I’m learning that it is only the tip of the iceberg.  I have the responsibility to own it.  It’s not fair and I have the power, the power inherent in my un-earned privilege, to do something about it.  There is a prayer of confession from the Episcopal liturgy that has stuck with me from my childhood.   

“We have done those things which we ought not to have done and we havenot done those things which we ought to have done.“ 

We used to sing Micah 6:8 when we were at university..

 “He has told you, O mortal, what is good;

and what does the LORD require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God?”

It is one thing to sing, quite another, to do.  

The Discomfort of Scripture

‘Ever read a bible passage and think,

“I wish he hadn’t written that!”

“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention (for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin), so as to live for the rest of your earthly life no longer by human desires but by the will of God.” 1 Peter 4:1-2

Suffering… I don’t even like the inconvenience of mild social distancing and here the author is saying intend to suffer. Admittedly, this is talking to people who are being really persecuted. And by persecution I mean like being fed to the lions. They are to expect it and mentally arm themselves for it. The Greek verb is “hoplidzo”

The most heavily armed Greek warriors were called Hoplites, from the “hoplon” (cognate of the verb above), the weapons they carried, shield, spear, and sword, not to mention helmet, breastplate, and bronze greaves for the shins. Citizen soldiers were expected to provide their own equipment and it took time and money to “hoplidzo” yourself and be adequately prepared and that before you ever show up at the battle. The key word is “prepared”.

Before we go out and buy an assault rifle, this might be a good time to remind ourselves that our real enemies aren’t physical entities, or even political ideas, but

“…spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places”.

Though persecution can be physical, our weapons are spiritual, and our preparation is mental and counterintuitive in the extreme. We are to arm ourselves to suffer rather than avoid it. As Jesus gave his life for us, we should be willing to sacrificially give ourselves as well. See what I mean? My life has a recurring theme of avoiding pain, not embracing it. I think I remember Mark Bell saying back at Cal Poly,

“The problem with living sacrifices is that we keep crawling off the alter.”

Now I doubt if I will ever personally see anything resembling first or second century persecutions in the US and I won’t miss it if I don’t. It is happening in other parts of the world, and I should care about that, get informed, (Warning: God may call us to get involved), but these do not touch me personally. Any current opposition I experience is on the order of secularizing the names of my favorite holidays. I am not damaged. However, if I adopt the attitude of Jesus it changes my whole life. It equips me to shed my earthly desires, my worldly ambitions for safety and comfort, and live out the will of God no matter where it takes me. And it might cost me.

God hears everything we say. He reads everything we write. Now he knows “I wish he hadn’t written that.” But he also knows I know… he did.