Uncategorized, Wild seeds

A perfect day is a gift from a perfect God

 

It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. The picture below is evidence of the truth of that statement. As you would expect, there are many words, and entire stories, pulsing through this picture.

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Let me share a few of them. I do so to highlight the principle that we should make the most of each day, and in doing so thank God for His daily gifts. This principle sings loudest this time of year. Friends and families spend more time and more focused time together around Christmas. This picture will remind me to do that with greater frequency well after the Christmas season and long into the New Year.

 

I also share this picture and posting to brag on Emma, our oldest daughter. To not brag on her would mean that I am remiss in my role as a doting dad.

 

Last August I began running on a regular basis. Prior to this I had only run every-now-and-then. By that I mean I ran if chased by our kids, our dogs, or an occasional nagging notion that I should exercise more. One of my commitments for this year was to exercise more. After a short time Emma took an interest in running with me. We officially began trail running — running off-road in the woods — the first week in November. We quickly set a goal to train for the Mt. Nebo Bench Trail Run on December 17. It is a 7K (4 mile) trail run around Mt. Nebo. It only gave us six weeks to prepare. We trained hard, and, we had a lot of fun together in the process. We enjoyed daughter and dad talks as we ran (she did most of the talking, I was too out of breath to talk most of the time). While running one cold, rainy night we also found and “rescued” a kitten. You get the picture. It was terrific fun running and training together.

 

Yesterday was the big day. It was our first “race” ever (although Emma had done some 5K walk/runs with her mom in the past). We got up at 5 a.m, fixed our “runner’s breakfast,” and loaded up for a 2.5 hour drive. On the way we laughed, talked, and planned our race strategy. For the sake of brevity, and to not test your patience, I will highlight the stories captured by the picture in bullet points:

  • As the race began we kept our pace and watched those around us. We came up with code words for passing certain people — for example, “Code Red” meant we would track down and pass the fellow in red who was just ahead of us for most of the race.
  • As we approached and passed a fellow runner (a woman in her 50s.) Emma said, “I have to tell you that you smell great!” The lady appreciated the comment and replied, “So, I don’t smell to perfumy or strong?” “No,” Emma replied, “you smell very clean, just right.”
  • While other runners grabbed and chugged the water from a volunteer at the halfway point Emma preferred that we stop, enjoy our water, and thank the volunteer for being there. Emma also took the time to put our paper cups in the trash bag (she was appalled that other runners threw their cups on the ground; I later told her that the volunteers would pick them up).
  • As we neared the finish we turned on our “deer legs” for the last big hill and later Emma used “cheetah legs” (more of our code talk) to try to track down a another runner who had stayed ahead of us the entire time. It is worth noting that it was no small effort to catch up to people that we had passed prior to the “water break” and overtake them a second time.
  • Emma finished 12 seconds before I did, thanks to her “cheetah mode.” When I heard them announce her name over the PA system as she crossed the finish line my heart and eyes welled up. She had done it. A 7K trail run full of hills and slippery paths couldn’t stand up against her young legs and strong will.
  • As I crossed the finish line she high-fived and hugged me. We had finished, shaved 30 seconds per mile off of our training times, and logged one of our best experiences ever.

 

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On the way back home we replayed the day, planned our next race, and talked about seeing the new Star Wars movie. She soon fell asleep. As I drove I could only think, “Thank you God, thank You for Emma and for a day like today.” As I bathed in the delight of the day I remembered that this very sense of delight is the delight that God has in us as His children. What a wonder. What a God. What gifts He gives.

 

As you think on these words, and smile at the photos, think beyond them. Think beyond them to the gifts that God gives to you. Then, think beyond the gifts that He gives and enjoy Him. His gifts are great; He is greater.

 

His greatest gift to us isn’t our children, or our best days, it is His Son for us and in us each day!

 

By the way, Emma won third place in her division. I couldn’t resist … Merry Christmas from the ole Bearded Acorn!

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Good words for a good week…

Some of God’s greatest gifts arrive wrapped in rough paper. Likewise, some of God’s good news begins gruffly. With that in mind, let’s leap in.

 

Do you ever find yourself shying away from using the word “sin?” It seems harsh, personal, and condemning. It is all of those things, and from God’s view it is rightly so. Why? Sin wrecks the world, and each person in it. Until we call it what it is we cannot deal with it honestly. Not correctly identifying inherent sinfulness as our primary problem would be like accepting a doctor’s diagnosis of: “Yes, you certainly have a terrible disease, but let’s not identify it, or label it specifically — that would be harsh and upsetting — rather, let’s call it something more pleasing and see if you can improve your health by ignoring it.” That’s industrial strength negligence. Although it would seem like a ridiculous approach to physical health some have no qualms about handling their spiritual matters in this manner.

 

You are wondering where the good words are, aren’t you? Well, we must first ascertain  that sin is the ailment before we can apply the cure. With that out of the way, here’s the cure:

 

“For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,” Romans 4:3-5

 

The deeply personal bad news is that we are all sinners, and sinful. The worse news is that many people believe that it is possible to work their way out of it. Attending church, doing good deeds, and giving to charities are all common approaches to “doing more good than bad.” The truth — Bible truth that is — tells us that we cannot do so. We do not have the ability, capacity, or consistency to do “good” that will erase our sin. No one will be forgiven and receive eternal life because of what he or she did. No one; not you, not me, not anyone, ever. Romans 4:4 makes this jarringly clear: if you attempt to work to earn God’s favor and forgiveness you actually go further into debt to Him for your sin. Hint: trying to earn God’s favor is a sin in itself as it attempts to reduce God’s standards to ours and exalts our abilities to those of Christ. Ouch!

 

Now to the good words, good words to encourage you toward a good week.

 

Romans 4:5 gives us three astounding truths:

  • Our relationship with God is grace-based, not works-based. Whew!
  • The “ungodly” and “unrighteous” — that’s us — are forgiven and justified by faith in Jesus.
  • The righteousness of Jesus is applied to those who believe in Him.

 

In summary, you and I cannot earn God’s favor and forgiveness; we receive it by His grace through faith in Jesus. And — this is a a big one — we are forgiven by faith in Jesus and His righteousness is applied to us (that’s a big “and”). So, God does not see you as a sinner huddled under the Name of his Son, rather, He sees you cloaked in and covered by the righteousness of His Son. He looks at you through the lens of the Lord Jesus. How’s that for good words from God’s Word?

 

He did for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves and gives us what we could never earn. That’s a grand description of God’s grace. His grace for you, and to you, each day. Good words indeed…

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Bible study, Uncategorized

Simeon’s example…

With Christmas speeding down the rails, let’s take a moment and look back at an often over-looked scene of Jesus’ arrival.  Please take a moment and read Luke 2:22-35; really, go ahead, read slowly. Read it out loud — use your indoor Bible-reading voice please — and soak it in. There, now that you have read it, let’s take the narrative apart so that it can assemble for us an up-close portrait of the Christ-child. Here are some of the notables of the narrative that will guide you as you study through this stirring passage.

 

In Luke 2:25 we meet an older fellow named Simeon. He is found nowhere else in the New Testament. His single inclusion in Scripture is brief, but it is one that will moisten your eyes.

 

First, Simeon was a fellow who knew God. Many know about God; Simeon knew Him. The introduction to Simeon shows this in verse 25. He was a resident of Jerusalem who greatly anticipated the arrival of the Messiah, was led by the Spirit of God, and was godly and devout. It’s worth noting that the folks to whom God revealed the birth and identity of Jesus were not mainline religious folks. The on-the-fringe folks — magi from the East, shepherds, Joseph and Mary (carpenter and his young wife), Simeon, and a very unique 84 year old lady named Anna — were the ones who received Jesus’ birth announcement.

 

The point here — a serrated point nonetheless — is that the folks who should have been ready to recognize Jesus didn’t, not at all. They swung and missed. They were busy steeping in self-righteousness and marinating in man-made rules. To bring it to the present, almost all “good church folk” nowadays would have missed Jesus due to thier serving on committees, crafting new bylaws of behavior for others to follow, and congratulating one another on their own acumen in doing both. Instead, some farmers, a handful of foreigners (somehow they made it made it over Donald Trump’s “wall.”), an old fellow, and a very Pentecostal-like 84 year old would have recognized Jesus first. Ouch.

 

Second, and to advance the previous point, Simeon had ears to hear what God had said and was saying (verse 26). Jesus frequently stated, “he who has ears to hear (God’s Word), let him hear.” There is a reason that he said that, and said it a lot of times to lots of people. Simeon had ears to hear God. He listened; he heard; he believed. It goes in that order.

 

Third, Simeon had eyes to see what God was doing (verse 27-28). He had listened, heard God, and believed Him. Then, he saw. It goes in that order. When he saw Jesus he knew who and what He was. He did so instantly. How? Simeon ears were perked to hear and his eyes were focused to see through sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. Notice that Simeon went to the temple “in the Spirit.” This was his normal practice. Verse 25 states that “the Holy Spirit was upon him.” This was his usual spiritual state.  In what “spirit” do you go to worship? What is your usual spiritual state? We tend to think that going to church will help us to become Spirit-filled, and it can, but shouldn’t we first arrive there packed-to-the-gills full of the Spirit? We know the painful answer, don’t we.

 

Fourth, Simeon’s faith finally held its long-awaited object. When by enduring faith he received God’s promise worship welled up and poured out publicly. His faith had been based on God’s Word to him. His peace (verse 29) had been based upon God’s promise to him. At last his faith and peace were woven together in realization through recognition of the Messiah. And, he got to hold the Messian with his owns hands.

 

Lastly, Simeon’s worship of Jesus introduced others to Him. Notice the roles of and titles for Jesus that Simeon revealed to others: Savior (verse 30), Light for revelation to the Gentiles (32), Glory for Israel (32), Messiah (32). He recognized Jesus and aptly told others about him through praise. This passage is referred to as “Simeon’s Psalm.” In light of that, the question must be asked … if Simeon’s words and worship revealed Jesus, then what do our words of public worship reveal? Honestly, much of our worship highlights how we feel, what we think, and what we like about God. It focuses on God through the lens of our thoughts and feelings toward Him. Re-read that. Once more, please. We are not good lenses. Scripture is the perfect lens. Simeon’s worship was Scripture-dense and Spirit-loaded. Ours is often experience-based and situation-soaked. Here’s a quick test:  recall and think through the words of songs that you sing at church and the lyrics of your favorite Christian songs. Do those lyrics burst with Scripture or bleat out about feelings? Count the use of “I, me, and my” in them and that will distill out the answer.

 

In closing, this short just-after-Christmas story found in Luke 2 shows that your personal spiritual walk must be Scripture-filled if you are to truly know God and see Him at work. Then, it should fuel your worship so that the spotlight rests on Jesus and His greatness, not on your thoughts or feelings — both of which may be non-Scriptural — about Him.

 

Over his lifetime Simeon listened to God’s Word; he heard; he believed; he saw; he worshiped rightly. It goes in that order. Let this order our celebration of Christmas and the upcoming new year as well.

 

Merry Christmas!

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Minding your spiritual mind, mind you…

I have pondered this post for a while. It’s a topic that I have a natural attraction to, but I realize that not everyone shares this same fondness. It is the topic of feeding, growing, and weeding your “spiritual mind.” Now, I know that we shouldn’t separate our “spiritual” mind from our physical one, but there is clear teaching in the Bible about spiritual mindedness and the new mind that we have in Christ. So, let’s get on with it.

Early on in my Christian life this verse knocked me off my feet, and still does:

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2 ESV

Read it carefully. Paul instructs us to be transformed by renewing our minds. In other words, the primary growth for Christ-followers takes place in the mind, not the will, or emotions. Sorry. If we are to become mature, effective Christ-followers we must grow our minds on God’s Word — which is how we are renewed — and allow God to do His transformative work in our minds first (see also Ephesians 4:23). This occurs when we consitently feed our minds on God’s Word . No shortcuts, no alternate routes.

To get on with building your spiritual mind you must first tear down two barriers that keep you from it. Both barriers are used by our Enemy, and appeal to our natural tendencies. The first barrier that we must overcome is that of being driven by our emotions, and allowing them to dictate the timbre and tone of our spiritual growth.

God created us to have emotions, and they play an important role in life. But, emotions are NOT the primary vehicle for spiritual growth, or even a dependable vehicle for growth at all. Sadly, American Christians tend to fall for this two-bit idea and think that our feelings about Christ and His Word will drive us toward depth and strength; instead, they tend to steer us right off the cliff.

A biblical example — the Gospels record more than two handfuls of times when Jesus asked His disciples what they thought about a situation or His teaching. How many times do the Gospels record Him asking, “how do you feel about this?” Zero. It wasn’t their emotions that He was after, it was a matter of putting His truth into their heads and souls. (Now before you send me a naggy email, or unfollow this blog, give it some thought. Emotions are icing on the cake, not the flour and eggs that make the cake.).

Here’s another example for you:

“Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures…” Luke 24:45

What did he open for the understanding of His Word? Their hearts? Their souls? Nope, it was their minds!
To further the point, here’s a practical example: if a strong stirring of emotions could produce favorable and long term results then you would only need once dose of encouragement per year, football coaches would give one pep talk per season, extra pounds could be shed and never return by you having a single feeling of inspiration about a diet and exercise program. I could go on — and would enjoy it — but you get the idea. True life transformation takes place through the renewing of our minds, which can be hampered by our emotions and a reliance upon them for change.

The second barrier to growing our spiritual minds is lack of discipline. Rather than engaging and training our spiritual minds each day, we allow them to crawl up on the front porch and doze while gnats gather to buzz around their hind-parts. Sad, but true. It’s no wonder that more than a decade ago, Os Guinness quipped that American Christians pursue fit bodies but have fat minds.

It is easy to allow our schedule, commitments, and work to gobble up time and energy. This is where discipline comes in. At the beginning of the day, or at its end, when we are tired, is when we have to make up our … well, you know, our minds, to take the time to read God’s Word in a systematic manner and think on what we have read.

In sum, dial down the emotions and crank up the discipline. And, as a corollary to your Bible study and thinkin’, add in some reading of great Christian thinkers. Supplementing, not replacing, your personal Bible reading time with C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, John Piper, J.I. Packer, and so on will do you miles of good. I have it from a good source that if a believer has not read J.I. Packer’s Knowing God and C S Lewis’ Mere Christianity at least once in his/her lifetime, then he or she will have to sit through remedial classes in heaven for his/her first six months there.
Here’s a challenge for you for the rest of the month: commit to forsake being led along by your emotions and circumstances, draw on spiritual discipline, and read through a chapter or two of God’s Word each day, then think on it, and pray through it. Also, memorize Romans 12:2, and add in a solid Christian book as a strongly brewed supplement for your spiritual mind.

My oldest daughter loves horses. This past summer she attended six days of Girl Scout “horse” camp. Yesterday, she went back to the Girl Scout camp for the next level of training in horseback riding. She loved it. One thing that stood out to me was that the teacher continually gave instruction to Emma about her riding form while she was riding, not before or after. Form matters.

The form that we need for feeding, growing, and weeding our spiritual minds is one of a disciplined ingestion of God’s Word, thinking on it, and supplementing it through reading solid-minded Christian writers from the past. Emma’s instructor would also frequently say, “keep going, that’s it, finish it out.” When you are tired, or loose your train of thought while reading a passage remember to keep going, finish it out. Your spiritual mind will grow, and you will grow in Christ-likeness.

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Wisdom, Waves, and Double-Mindedness

The click-clack-click-clack that you hear as you begin reading this post is the fast-paced movement of your cart climbing to the apex of the roller coaster. After you reach the top, then tip over it, the ride down will whoosh by and end abruptly at the platform. As you unbuckle and stagger out of your cart you will think, ‘Wow, that was fast, what do I do now?” This is by design. Fasten your safety harness please, and keep you hands and arms inside the cart throughout the blog post.

Last night I read James chapter one before going to bed. If it has been a while since you have last read in James, then let me refresh your memory. James is written to believers who were going through persecution, the real go-to-jail, get-a-beating, or flee the county variety of persecution. Thus, James does not beat around the bush. The book is loaded with to-the-point teaching that cuts to the bone. While there are encouraging points in the book of James, it is, to me, mostly like a warm embrace from a python –the truth tightening slowly, but steadily, and without relenting.

As I was reading, verses 5-8 leapt off of the page. In brief fashion I will unfold what I learned.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” James 1:5-8

James tells us that any believer who lacks wisdom — that would be all of us in some measure — should ask God for it. And God, who gives wisdom liberally, will grant it when we ask by faith without doubting Him or His promise to give it to us. There is where it gets bothersome. In verse 5, James records that God will grant us wisdom — and remember that wisdom doesn’t shimmer down from heaven, rather, it germinates from the steady planting of God’s Word in our minds and hearts (praying for wisdom is not a shortcut around receiving it through study in God’s Word; praying reminds us to head straight back to God’s Word for it). The next three verses show us what not asking by faith, or being a “doubting asker,” looks like. It’s vivid. If you are hoping for a Bible passage that quivers with delight and wags its tail when you come close, well, this ain’t it.

The margin for doubting God’s promise of providing wisdom in verse six is nil. We do not get to harbor a millimeter’s worth of doubt if we expect to receive any wisdom. Doubting God’s promise nullifies the request for it. Pause, think on that last line for a while. Keep thinking on it. That’s it, ponder some more. Ok, now, James said that we are to ask with “no doubting,” and then goes on to show us what a doubter looks like. The one who doubts God is like a wave on the sea that is tossed about. The word picture here is a clear one, and cutting. Notice that the wave of the sea is both “driven and tossed by the wind.” Verse 8 further describes one who asks God and doubts while in the process of asking as “double-minded” and “unstable in all his ways.” Ouch. So, how does one go from asking with doubt to being “unstable in all his ways?” It’s a short walk from one to the other; in fact, it is a leisurely stroll downhill, with the wind at your back.

A return to verse 6 shows us how this gets knotted up. It really comes down to what one is “driven by” and “moved by.” Remember that James said that a doubter is both driven by and tossed or turned by the same wind. The wind is doing the driving and tossing. To put the metaphor to work on the side of faith rather than doubt, a believer who is faith-driven will not be wind-tossed. Or, to hold the pointed edge toward your own life, you should ask the question, “what drives you?” The answer to that question will be what also tosses and turns you. If God-centered, Word-strengthened faith drives you, then you won’t be tossed. But, if anything less than that drives you … well then, you can expect some choppy water ahead.

What are some things that slip in line ahead of faith in our minds and hearts, and then cause us to be double-minded and unstable? Answer: lots of things — emotion, intellect, traditions, circumstances, to name a few. If you are governed by emotion, then you should fully expect for it to drive you, and then at its own whims, to toss and churn you along the way. Likewise, if you allow intellect, or rationalism, to sit in the driver’s seat, then you should expect it to turn the wheel however it pleases, whenever it pleases. So on and so forth with traditions, circumstances, etc. (I told you that reading James isn’t a happy, clappy giggle-fest. It’s tough. And, it’s good for us).

With this idea that anything other than God-centered, Bible-buttressed faith will drive and jostle us, it is easy to see how we can become double-headed and unstable in life (verse 8). Any movement — not matter how small — away from Bible-built faith is a big step toward double-headedness and instability. If you are feeling a bit unstable in some areas in life, and sense that you spiritual noggin needs three or four hats, then immerse yourself in James 1:5-8. It will drive you back to prayer for wisdom, and strength. You will then sense God nudging you back to His word, the fountain of His Wisdom and faith (see John 17:17, Proverbs 2:6-7, and Romans 10:17). His Word will then guide you away from doubt, spiritual schizophrenia, and instability.

Here is the abrupt stop. Isn’t it interesting what Jesus says in Matthew 7:24:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”

Hmmm, hear his words, do them, be like a wise man, and find yourself stable on the rock. Those are the opposites of doubting, being unwise, being tossed about, being unstable, and having spiritual double-mindedness. In the spiritual game of rock-paper-scissors, Bible Rock beats Tossed Waves and Double-Minded every time. As you disembark the roller coaster, go find your Bible, read James chapter one, ponder on it, and you’ll have your legs back under you in no time…

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You’ve got (real) mail….

When was the last time that you looked forward to checking your mail? Not your email, but the kind of mail that arrives with a stamp. This week has been the first time in a long time that I have been eager to open the mail box. Why, you ask? Two of my three daughters went away to a girls’ camp this week. It was their first stint away from parents, home, and grandparents that exceeded a couple of nights. Did I mention they are not allowed to make or receive phone calls, unless it’s an emergency? Several moms just shivered.

The bright side is that we were allowed to send them letters. Rather than trusting the USPS to deliver my letters, I wrote them beforehand, and gave them to the girls just before we left the camp. Each daughter has her own “dad” letter to read each day as well as a card for them to enjoy together each night. The nighttime cards are loaded with some of our silly sayings and inside jokes with the hope that they will smile and giggle together, and feel as if they are close to home at bedtime.

The writing of letters — and the hope of receiving some — has shown me some things. Actually, it has rekindled something that has been smothered by e-mail, blog posts, text messages and tweets. We live in the age of instant, limitless communication, and it has robbed us of some habits and virtues.

Not so many years ago our interpersonal communication was either face-to-face, via an odd-colored, rotary dial telephone, or by mail. Until a century ago only two of these existed. I suspect that communication was more meaningful then, and also carried out with a more robust vocabulary and better grammar.

In pondering these things a Bible verse trickled through my mind:

“…I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God…” 1 Peter 5:12

This passage shows us that letters are personal. They are written to someone, by someone.  Peter’s words were “I have written to you…” The relationship is understood, and being nurtured. The words, thoughts, and familiar penmanship all meant something, something personal, just like FaceBook. Just kidding, Heh-Heh. Sadly, communication that carries a personal touch approaches extinction nowadays.

Let’s place these thoughts alongside the days when folks in our society commonly sent and received letters. In doing so we will learn a few bits about ourselves that will aid us in communicating with meaning, and also reveal what we have lost over the past three decades of e-talk — the personal touch.

There are invisible, internal benefits received from writing and receiving letters. In the days of communication through handwritten and hand-delivered mail there was anticipation by both parties. The anticipation caused both to think of, and perhaps long for the other. As the recipient sorted the mail, anticipation would build: What would be said? How would it be said? As the letter was read, emotions were engaged and the mind skated about freely. Throughout the reading, and even more so afterward, the words were pondered, thoughts distilled, meaning was extracted, a response simmered, and a reply was composed. As the reply was sealed, stamped, and sent away something of meaning had happened. Two people had related in a way that strengthened their bond. Instant communication assassinates this process.

It sounds delightful; it was, and it still can be. Give it a try. A priceless benefit of writing to someone is that handwritten notes can be kept. Kept, and read again, savored over and over. Countless letters and cards have been treasured long after the sender has gone or passed away.

Now apply this to the letters in the New Testament. A whole “other” meaning is added. The letters are from God. As such they carry his eternal truth, and presence. It would be remarkable to have observed the early believers as they held their breath, huddled, and soaked in the words penned by the beloved apostles.  I must admit that it sounds fantastical. It was. It still can be. You have the letters of God, read them, bathe in them, reflect on them. Recover the wonder of His written Word that is both eternal and personal. Then, do something with it — take a moment, pray for someone dear to you, and write a letter to him or her. Tell them about what you read in God’s Word, how they came to mind, and that you prayed for them. It will be good for you and the recipient. Letters work like that. By design, God’s design…

Oops, it’s time to go check the mail, again.

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Engaging, in an engaging way…

A cultural storm has been brewing in America for decades. Certainly, the clouds have darkened over the past few years. What we have seen over the past few months — Bruce Jenner, Rachel Dolezal, the Supreme Court ruling on you-know-what — is the first round of lightning, thunder, and hail (or brimstone). A long, hard rain is coming.

So, we can sit back and gripe until our tonsils ache, or figure out how to be obedient, effective Christ-followers in this downpour. The wise approach is to head straight to the Gospels and read with a keen eye toward the methods that Jesus employed in teaching the truth to folks who opposed it. Jesus was the master teacher, he talked to and engaged people among all classes of his society from religious leaders and rulers to tramps and tax collectors. He did it perfectly. He did it with remarkable deliberation, as stated in John 12:49:

“For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment- what to say and what to speak.” (ESV)

Let’s crack this verse open and discover things that are urgent for us to understand today:

  • The message came from above. God the Father had given Jesus the message, and it was not man-centered or earth-based.
  • The message had specific content that was unchanging.
  • The methods of sharing the message would vary. I don’t want to get too technical, but, “what to say and what to speak,” has the hint of “what to say and how to say it.” This provides insight into how Jesus interacted with people as he taught them. And, it will help us too.

Jesus never changed the message, but he would share the unchanging Gospel in different ways with different people. He would not speak the same way to a Pharisee and a leper, and shouldn’t have, and we shouldn’t either. Jesus, being fully God, was the master of knowing the condition of his hearers. We should follow his example by discerning the mindset and attitudes of those that we speak to as well.

The pinnacle of Jesus’ means of teaching and reaching others was his use of parables. Given what we have just seen, you can appreciate why parables were used so frequently in Jesus teaching — they applied to all walks, stages, and positions in life. They were almost universal in scope. Brilliant!

Here are some examples:

“And he was teaching them many things in parables…” Mark 4:2 

“With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.” Mark 4:33-34 (Notice that he taught two different groups in two different ways — one with parables, and one by instruction.)

So, what are we to do with this?

From this we learn that we cannot use formulaic methods, cookie-cutter presentations, or tired, wheezy methods from the days of sideburns and leisure suits. We have to take up the example of Jesus and prayerfully and studiously get our message from above (the Gospels and entirety of Scripture), learn the message inside and out, and engage others relationally by using varied ways with different people. Like Jesus did. Sounds like a lot of spiritual and mental homework, right? It is. And, if we had done this all along we might not be sitting in this societal slop.

Here are some practical first steps:

  1. Do not assume that others want to hear God’s Word. Most don’t. They want things their way. Take heart, this is the same response that Jesus received many times over. Pray for God to open the hearts and minds of those around you.
  2. Do not rely on recipe-style methods. The “Roman Road” or “ABCs of the Gospel” may work with our children in Bible school, but it won’t work with that angry, worldly, Bible-hater that sits two cubicles down from you at work (Drat, he just hung up his rainbow American flag).  Outlined presentations can be a starting point, but discussion and interaction have to follow.

Here’s a verse that punches cookie-cutter methods right in the snout:

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” John 6:63  

This verse shows why methods will fall short; methods cannot convey spirit and life, only God’s Word can.

3. In following number two, learn your Bible inside and out, particularly the Gospel message from the four Gospels. Ponder how Jesus spoke to and engaged people.

4. Read some solid books on basic doctrine and apologetics (the study of how to explain and defend the Christian faith), and read them slowly. I recall hearing a conference speaker back in 1997 suggest that the days of simple evangelism were ending, and that the days of apologetics as a means of evangelism were beginning. Yep.

Here are few good books to get you started: Concise Theology by J.I. Packer (a must read, it’s short and stout), Everyone’s a Theologican by R.C. Sproul, Fool’s Talk by Os Guiness, and Christian Apologetics by Douglas Groothuis (longer, read the others first).

Here’s a summary of our four points: understand your hearer, do not lean on a spiritual cane from the past, learn God’s Word, and study and think. The good news is that God will honor all of this. He is the one who puts people directly into our lives. He is the one who gives us wisdom and leadership by his Holy Spirit. He is the one who brings people from darkness into the Light. We are to be faithful farmers sewing the right seed, runners training for our race, witnesses sharing the evidence, soldiers practicing the art of engagement, and disciples learning from and imitating Jesus.

It’s work, but it’s worth it. What could honor Christ more than us learning from and imitating him as we share God’s Truth with a broken, lost world?

“Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” For they no longer dared to ask him any question.” Luke 20:39-40

See, told ya!

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