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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.

Temporary, Temporary, all is Temporary

I was sitting this morning in our living room, in a comfortable chair, with a cup of good coffee and one of my bibles, reading about the end times.  People will be evil and arrogant.  The weak will be oppressed.  (This one bothers us more.  What we can do we should do.) ‘Sounds like the news, but then again that has been a reoccurring theme throughout history.  In college we doubted we would see 40 because Jesus was surely coming again soon.  Then I look around the room.

The wood floors were redone professionally.  The walls are freshly painted, and pictures are up, reminding us of people and special times in of our life.  Our latest acquisition is a large, recently refinished cedar chest draped with an intricate gift from friends in Romania, topped by a candle, a picture of the kids when they were kids, and some books carefully placed in in a casual manner.  It looks like a magazine.

Moving into the kitchen to get another cup of coffee, I sit at the redwood burl table that Steph finished and look at the new cabinets and colorful Fiestaware exposed on the open shelves we crafted out of reclaimed wood.  Weeks of work in a twelve by twelve room.  Finished… mostly… leaving a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction,.  Someday, somebody will come into that same kitchen and declare everything outdated, worn out, unfit for habitation… just like we did 10 months ago.   The chest we found abandoned on the street will go back out to the sidewalk for someone else.  It is all temporary.

We have mirrors in our house.  We know there are wrinkles where there used to be smooth skin and skin where there used to be hair.  My  broken and arthritic hands find guitar chords harder to reach if they can reach them at all.  Steph watches young women jog by and mourns that her body can’t keep up with her memories.   We, or at least these shells that hold our souls, are also temporary.   If all we have is this world… that’s pretty grim.

We are convinced that at least two things do last forever, the immortal souls of people and the Word of God.  Jesus claimed the second will never pass away so looking at it in a bit of a utilitarian fashion,  any time spent there is a good investment.  The first is also true but it has consequences… every soul is eternal but the bible speaks sparingly and in metaphors about eternal alternatives.  It’s Paradise or a lake of fire,  “with the Lord” or “outer darkness”, a garbage dump or a mansion.  I don’t know how literal or complete these descriptions are, but one thing is sure, there is a good outcome and a bad one, a good destination and bad one.  Jesus promises to take us to the good place and told us to invite others to come with us.  And if he doesn’t come and get us soon, well… we’ll join him there, sooner or later.

I don’t feel too guilty about sitting in my comfortable chair reading this morning.   I also admit I’m sort of proud of the kitchen we put together.  One has to prepare food someplace.  ‘Just a reminder of what’s eternal and what’s temporary.

How shall we treat the weak?

Years ago I asked an experienced and accomplished Navigator missionary to give a summary of what he had learned after a notable career.  I don’t know what I was expecting, perhaps a winning strategy or a spiritual “trick” or something, but his answer surprised me.

“We should measure our success by how we treat ‘the least of these.'” *

‘Not how we recruit the “best and brightest”, although we’ll take some of those if they have the right spirit, but how we treat those who get picked last, who have a hard time keeping up.  ‘Nothing wrong with having goals and objectives but do I have any time for those who aren’t furthering my agendas?  Struggling people (acknowledging we all struggle) are inconvenient and costly and draining.  And Jesus loves them too.

Right now the economy is booming.  Unemployment is down, though we hear conflicting reports about real wages.  If you own stocks you’re pretty happy.   By these financial measurements, it appears America is “winning”.  If money is how we grade life, the report card looks good.  The bigger question is if this is the right measurement.  There seems to be little concern here for those without a stock portfolio or who aren’t contributing to the growth of the overall financial picture.  How does this deal with the “least of these” or, in the admonition of Isaiah 1:17,  learning to do good, to seek justice for those who need it, to rescue the oppressed even if they aren’t “my people”, to defend somebody else’s widow, and (not “or”) to care for the needy children who fall into my path … even if it costs me?

I was reading 1 Timothy 6 this morning and in the midst of a passage of warnings about misplaced values (craving wealth being one of the more dangerous ones) Paul gives his own philosophy for how to measure life.

“Of course there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it, but  if we have food and clothing, (or shelter), we will be content with those.” **

Food and clothing and shelter are essential for life.  If we don’t have them it isn’t greedy to want them.  It isn’t unspiritual to work toward them.  The poor and destitute aren’t lesser for that.   For the rest of us, Isaiah, Matthew, and Paul, explain that what we need is “enough”, and that is enough.  The greatest measurement of our life, indeed of ourselves, is back to the words of Jesus,

“Just as you did it to one of the least of these …, you did it to me.”

How are you doing?

* See Matthew 25:38-40

** 1 Timothy 6:6-8

Old Friends Calling

I don’t know if it is lazy familiarity or rather if it is God’s persistent call on my life.  I don’t know if it is good or bad.  I don’t know what to make of these verses, which meant so much to me once, and which have returned with startling power and freshness as though I had never seen them before. 

I was headed to meetings in Dusseldorf, Germany and doing the bible study “last minute” on the plane from Dublin.  We were supposed to be looking at 1 Thessalonians but I got “click happy”, moving rapidly from one thought and cross reference to another, and ended up in 1 Corinthians*.   (Internet habits becoming real habits.)

The topic for the meetings was “laboring” and there is a lot we can apply from 1 Corinthians.  “Jews look for signs and Greeks look for wisdom.”  Nothing has changed there.  We still have people who demand physical (scientific) “Proof” and others who insist we navigate their mental maze and solve their intellectual puzzles.  I’ve attempted both at one time or another with only modest success. Paul did neither, preferring to talk about Jesus and that embarrassing crucifixion and impossible resurrection.  We could do worse.

The second thing that hit me that morning was more personal. Paul asks them, “When you were called, how many of you were wise, like the world is wise, and how many of you were important, special, somehow better than, worthy of being called by God to his service?”  The answer could be a neon sign on the Las Vegas strip,


These were ordinary people, the unremarkable, and yet God had drawn them to himself and in turn had already, and intended to continue to, put them to use.

It is this reminder to them that is a reminder to me, and an encouragement, for you see, I have always been cognizant of my shortcomings.  Stephanie feels the same way alongside the spiritual powerhouses in Lifesprings.  These last years, traveling all over Europe, finding ourselves in meetings where we feel we don’t belong, attempting things beyond our wildest dreams, (and seeing God do them), stretched beyond our abilities, and all the while knowing we are mere Corinthians, neither wise nor special, ordinary… and yet called.

Forty years ago these verses gave a young man hope and guidance.  Today they do the same for a grandpa.   We are indeed ordinary, and just as certainly…commissioned by God to his service.

* Mined from 1 Corinthians 1:18-31  ‘Lots more to learn in these few verses.