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Monday, April 30, 2012

Doe a Deer


Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 5.5.12

We’re having a Julie Andrews moment here. I’m sure you remember that song:
“Let’s start at the very beginning; a very good place to start. When we read we begin with a, b, c; when we sing we begin with doe, ray, me…” 
But when we’re sharing the gospel of Jesus with someone, where do we start?

Have you ever thought about in what order we should present Bible truth? Do you think it matters? I mean, it’s all truth, right?

Apparently, it is the order matters. I’ve worked in education for enough years to know that almost everything we do needs to happen in a particular sequence and every step in that sequence is important – not just for what it is, but also for where it falls. For example, babies learn to roll over, to crawl, to pull up on furniture, to walk and then to run. Each one of those steps is important because of the way the muscles and the brain work together to make each one happen.

Actually, Paul talked about that very thing:
“I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able;” I Corinthians 3:2
Ellen White describes the process like this: 
“Christ drew the hearts of His hearers to Him by the manifestation of His love, and then, little by little, as they were able to bear it, He unfolded to them the great truths of the kingdom. We also must learn to adapt our labors to the condition of the people—to meet men where they are.”[1]
How do we know where to start, then? Well, if we look at the way Jesus worked with people, we can see that He almost always started at a purely physical level: if someone needed healing, He healed them. If they needed feeding, He fed them. Only after a person’s physical needs were met would Jesus talk to him or her about His and His Father’s love.

My aunt and uncle have an amazing ministry that follows the example of Jesus. Twice a year for as long as I can remember, they have gone to little villages in Mexico with bus and van loads of doctors, nurses, dentists and assorted volunteers. They spend a week or two meeting the physical needs of hundreds of villagers with every kind of ailment you can imagine…and some you’d rather not. Every day the medical folks work to comfort, if not heal, the people who come to them. Then, in the evenings, they share the love of Jesus. Thousands of people have met Jesus and given their hearts to Him because they experienced the love of people who love Jesus.

I’m not saying that everybody needs to pack up and take a mission trip; there are plenty of folks who are starving for Jesus all around us. Not everyone has a medical need. Thy point isn’t what you do; just that you do something to show someone else how much Jesus loves him.
“Doe a deer, a female deer; ray a drop of golden sun. Me, a name I call myself, fa – a long, long way to run…”
You know when we’re just discovering the world around us, as children, we experience things very simply: the sky is blue, the sun is yellow, all trees are apple trees, and all houses are two stories, have a peaked roof, chimney, a front door and five windows. Do you doubt it? Ask a six or seven year old to draw you a picture of a house and that’s almost certainly what you’ll get. If you ask a child to sing you a song, you’ll probably hear them sing “Jesus Loves Me.”

Is there anything wrong with any of that? Not at all. But as children grow, their understanding grows with them. They learn why the sky looks blue. They realize that all houses and trees aren’t the same and they’ll begin to understand why those differences are important. It wouldn’t do anybody any good though to sit a six year old down and try to explain to him the finer points of architecture or the layers of the atmosphere. You’d both end up frustrated and chances are, the next time you asked that child to draw you a picture, he’d be less likely to oblige.

When we introduce someone to Jesus, it’s important that first and always foremost, he knows that Jesus loves him. What’s the best way to show Jesus’ love? By loving that person ourselves. As we build a relationship with him or her, he will begin his relationship with Jesus as well.

Little by little, as the Holy Spirit leads, the person will be able to understand more and more Bible truth. How fast will you progress? Probably everybody understands at a different rate. As the Holy Spirit works on his or her heart, new truths will sink in.

It’s important to remember, though, that relationship comes first – a relationship with you and then one with Jesus.

Check out these statistics from the Institute for American Church Growth. That organization asked 10,000 people how they came to join their church.

People who started coming to church because they had some special need: 2%
People who just walked in: 3%
Folks who said they joined because of the pastor: 6%
Those who joined a church because somebody came to visit them: 1%
Folks who joined because they liked the church study program: 5%
People who joined through an evangelistic crusade: 5%
Those who joined for a particular program: 3%
Now, here’s the biggie! People who joined a church because they had a friend or relative in that church: 79%[2]

Everything builds on the foundation built through a personal connection with someone who loves Jesus. Everything else builds off of that foundation. As he becomes a more mature Christian, he will have to make the decision to follow Jesus for himself. Every person comes to a point when he or she has to decide to continue to follow Jesus or to walk on by himself. But a belief built on a relationship with Jesus will stand that test.
“Doe a deer, a female deer; ray a drop of golden sun. Me, a name I call myself, fa – a long, long way to run. Sew, a needle pulling thread. La, a note to follow sew. Tea, a drink with jam and bread. That will bring us back to doe!”
We begin and end with Jesus. In between there are truths and trials, heartaches and hopes, but Jesus is the constant. As the Holy Spirit leads to people who are starving for Jesus, we just need to remember to start at the beginning. Find out what that person needs: healing, help or just someone to listen, provide it and then tell him or her the amazing things Jesus has done in your life. Then hang on as the Holy Spirit works through you to help this baby Christian grow. What a miracle!


[1] Ellen G. White, Evangelism, p. 57.
[2] Wayne Zunkel, Leadership, Vol. 5, no. 3

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Revolutionary Love



Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for  4.28.12

What was it that made Jesus so different from any of the other religious leaders of His time? Well, His message was clearly different: keeping the rules can’t save you, be a servant, love your enemies. That was all new stuff to the people of Jesus’ time. I think sometimes we forget how really different the things that Jesus was preaching were; we’ve heard it all our whole lives.

What Jesus was preaching was truly revolutionary, a complete break from the religious teaching of His day. But do you think if Jesus had just preached … just stated His message and gone home, do you think He would have had any followers at all?

What drew people to Jesus had less to do with what He was saying and everything to do with what He did – how He treated people – that is what was revolutionary. His earthly ministry was boots-on-the-ground, gritty, hand to hand and one on one. There was nothing safe or sanitary about it. Jesus’ ministry was pretty much the complete opposite of how we want it to be.

I just read about a software company that has created a computer program that makes it possible for high school students to dissect virtual frogs. Now, a good many of you probably remember that experience in high school. None of us who experienced it, will ever forget the smell of formaldehyde. Some of you may have found it a fascinating and enlightening experience. I remember dreading the day my biology teacher would wheel out the cart with the dead frogs on it. I have never been real interested in finding out too much about those gooshy things inside us, and I was especially not interested in the gooshy things inside a dead frog! Combine that with the fact that my lab partner for the frog episode was the boy who a couple of years earlier swallowed one of the worms we were supposed to be dissecting. Needless to say, frog day was not my favorite day of high school. There was nothing sanitary, polite, or pleasant about it.

I think sometimes we expect sharing the gospel to be like dissecting virtual frogs; detached, sanitary, and not too complicated, right? Handing out literature on the third Sabbath of the month, just a quick “hello”, a handshake and we’re outta there, right? How far do you think Jesus would have gotten if He had run His ministry like that?

It probably wouldn’t have gotten him killed, for one thing. The Pharisees wouldn’t have felt threatened by Jesus and His ministry if He had kept His hands clean.

The Pharisees lived safely behind their ceremonial wall of clean and unclean. They taught that what a person touched could make them unacceptable to God; they taught that having a rule for everything kept their hands clean.

So, when Jesus came along and He talked to people the Pharisees wouldn’t go near. He ate with people the Pharisees didn’t like, eating with riffraff and staying overnight with “those people.”

And “those people,” when they saw how much Jesus loved them, that He wasn’t afraid to touch them, talk to them, and heal them, loved Him back.

Jesus had compassion on the people He met every day and people were changed by that kind of revolutionary love – love that touched lepers, ate with prostitutes and tax collectors, and treated them like good friends.

There it is … the people that Jesus ministered to, talked to, and preached to weren’t numbers on a chart somewhere for “contacts made.” They were His friends. He loved each one of them; He loves each one of us. Yes, the things Jesus said were amazingly different, but what He did was revolutionary.

You know, I work every day with people who might make some folks uncomfortable. I work with intellectually delayed adults. I have to admit that when I first started working with these people, I was pretty intimidated. Some of them don’t look any different than you and I do, but some are quite different. Some need help feeding themselves. A few need help with more personal things. Almost a year and a half ago, I spent a lot of time trying to not touch anybody or be touched by anyone. I thought I could do my job without getting too involved in any individual’s life and then go home.

That’s not the way it works. My clients can sense, just like you and I can, someone who’s just putting in his or her time, someone who is emotionally distant, someone who is in a hurry to get away. And, as I work with each client, I become involved in his or her life. We are not separate anymore. We are friends. I care about each one.

When I was growing up I remember hearing people talk about something called “disinterested benevolence.” I remember hearing people say that meant that we shouldn’t get personally involved with the people we were witnessing to; we should just provide the information and move on. Now maybe I misunderstood, but that seems like a very pharisaical way to witness. “Here’s your information, do with it as you will.”
“Divine love makes its most touching appeals to the heart when it calls upon us to manifest the same tender compassion that Christ manifested. That man only who has unselfish love for his brother has true love for God. The true Christian will not willingly permit the soul in peril and need to go unwarned, uncared for. He will not hold himself aloof from the erring, leaving them to plunge farther into unhappiness and discouragement or to fall on Satan’s battleground.”[1] 
Some folks talk about how important it is for churches to stay “culturally relevant.” I’m not all that sure what that means to them. To me it means that those people who say they feel that we should adopt some more worldly things to bring people in and keep them interested. Maybe we do, I don’t know, but in my experience, as long as people know that you are interested in and care about them specifically, whether or not you are playing their specific kind of music isn’t that important to them. If they sense that we aren’t that interested in them personally, they’re not going to keep coming, no matter what we offer them. People want to know that we are interested in them.
“How many of the wandering ones have you, reader, sought for and brought back to the fold? When you turn from those who seem unpromising and unattractive, do you realize that you are neglecting the souls for whom Christ is seeking? At the very time when you turn from them, they may be in the greatest need of your compassion. In every assembly for worship, there are souls longing for rest and peace. They may appear to be living careless lives, but they are not insensible to the influence of the Holy Spirit. Many among them might be won for Christ.             
If the lost sheep is not brought back to the fold, it wanders until it perishes. And many souls go down to ruin for want of a hand stretched out to save. These erring ones may appear hard and reckless; but if they had received the same advantages that others have had, they might have revealed far more nobility of soul, and greater talent for usefulness. Angels pity these wandering ones. Angels weep, while human eyes are dry and hearts are closed to pity.” [2]
Do you want to show the world revolutionary love today? I do.


[1] E. G. White, Acts of the Apostles, p. 550
[2] E. G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons, p191

Monday, April 16, 2012

Gifted


Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 4.21.12

Once Upon A Time, in the land of Gifted, lived some very miserable people. They trudged through the streets of Gifted every day carrying huge burdens on their backs. A visitor to Gifted once asked why the people of Gifted carried these heavy burdens with them day after day. The answer was surprising. The visitor was told that the townspeople were not carrying burdens but gifts from their King.


The visitor was shocked by this answer. He had to know more, so he followed a particular citizen to his home so he could ask him more questions. The townsperson set aside his burden/gift and began to explain.


It seems that as each person became a citizen of Gifted, the King bestowed upon him or her a gift picked especially for that individual. The gift was for the improvement of the town.


(“…for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,” Ephesians 4:12)


But when the visitor looked around, what he mostly saw were dilapidated, rundown buildings. The visitor asked, “If these gifts are as important as you say, why haven’t you opened them and used them?”


“Oh, we know better than that,” said the citizen with a grim shake of his head. “Citizens who got here before us opened their gifts and, well, let’s just say, ‘it wasn’t pretty.’”


“I find that hard to believe, citizen. How can opening the gift and using it for its purpose be a bad thing?”


“See for yourself. The older district is just a few streets over.”


The visitor thanked the citizen and started on his way. As he walked he was saddened by the number of empty buildings and homes. It seemed odd that a town in which every new citizen received a personally chosen gift from the King wasn’t seeing more people moving in than moving out.


Finally the visitor came to the older part of town. He could immediately see a difference in that everyone was working hard and using his or her gift…and yet, the buildings didn’t look any better maintained and the citizens seemed even more miserable than the ones in the first neighborhood.


The visitor looked around him. The first thing he saw was a citizen trying to dig a furrow for his seeds with a pencil. Another citizen was trying to hammer a nail with a shovel. Another person was trying to “mow” the lawn with butcher knife.
As the citizens worked, the visitor could hear them talking to one another. One person would say, “Why don’t you have that lawn mown yet? You’ve been working on it for days. You are so lazy!”


I’m not lazy; it’s just so hard mowing with this butcher knife, I wish the King had given me a lawn mower! I mean, what am I supposed to do with this knife? Besides, you’re not making much progress on that chair you’re building. What’s your excuse?”


“I’m not going to make any excuses. I’m just working carefully so that everything’s perfect.”


“Perfect?! Ha! How do you figure? Nobody’s ever going to be able to sit in that chair until you drive those nails in the rest of the way.”


“Well, it is really hard to drive nails with this shovel. I sure thought the King would have given me a hammer if he wanted me to build furniture.”


The third citizen sat back in his garden and sighed, “Well, you both are better off than I am. I have to plant a whole garden with this silly pencil!”


The visitor couldn’t stay quiet another second. He stepped a bit closer and cleared his throat. “Ahem. I don’t mean to intrude, but I couldn’t help hearing you talking just now and I had a thought. Sir, you with the butcher knife, maybe you could be a chef instead of a lawn keeper? And why don’t you with the shovel dig the furrows and plant the seeds. And you, there with the pencil, you should be writing about your city and the advantages of living here, not trying to garden with a pencil.


All three citizens stopped their work for a moment and looked pityingly at that visitor, shaking their heads slowly.


“You don’t understand, visitor. These are the things we’ve chosen to do. We can’t help it if our gifts don’t match. We’ve got a job to do!”


(“And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way”1 Corinthians 12:28-31)


The visitor couldn’t believe his ears! “I don’t mean to pry, but if the King gave you a shovel, maybe you should be working in the garden. Maybe the King gave you the tool for the job you should be doing.”


“That is not going to happen. I want to be a carpenter and that’s what I’m going to be.”


The visitor couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He had to ask, “But if the King is gracious enough to give you these gifts, don’t you think you should use them in the way they were intended? What if you’d be a better gardener than you are a carpenter?”


“Well, I guess we’ll never know, because the King won’t give me a hammer. So I have to struggle along trying to drive nails with this shovel. If the King would give me the right tools, I could do brilliant work for him.”


The visitor realized that these men were determined to do things their own way, so he sadly shook his head and walked away.


----------


I hate to admit that I spent a whole bunch of years like the citizens of Gifted. I couldn’t see the gifts God had given me because they weren’t the gifts I wanted. I pouted and stomped my feet and demanded that God give me the gift I wanted …right then! Thankfully, for me and for all of us who want what we want when we want it, God waits us out, and when we’re finally done pitching our little fit, He’ll lovingly remind us of the better things He has in store for us, if we’ll give Him control of our lives.


We have a work to do for God. We need to be spreading the good news that Jesus is coming to take us home as quickly as possible so that we can go home soon.


“‘Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant’... After stating that though the Spirit is one it has diversities of operation, and explaining what those diversities are, he introduces the figure of the human body, with its various members, to show how the church is constituted with its different offices and gifts. And as the body has its various members, each having its particular office to fill, and all working together in unity of purpose to constitute one harmonious whole, so the Spirit was to operate through various channels in the church to constitute a perfect religious body.”[1. E.G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 24]


You and I are gifted, not as we wish, but as God needs, to profit His church.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Tale of Two (?) Disciples


“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way--in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” Charles Dickens, Tale of Two Cities, page 1.
“I am a follower of the Christ.  He called me; I left everything  and followed Him.  I went everywhere with Him from that day on.  He taught me and touched me.  I have seen Him heal the sick,  and raise the dead.  I heard Him speak the Words of Life to multitudes of followers.  I was there with Jesus, on the boat, when He told the wind and the waves to be still; I saw Him walk on the Sea of Galilee.  I have laughed and cried with Him and prayed with Him.  He is my Best Friend, my Brother, my Teacher.

“Unfortunately, though, I haven't always been the best friend He needed.  I have often fallen far short of Jesus' expectations and disappointed Him.  I could even say that I have broken His heart on more than one occasion.  In fact, when He needed me, I betrayed Him.

“For one brief moment, I put aside everything He had taught me and did what I thought was best.  And at that moment, our eyes met and He looked straight into my eyes, into my heart.  The expression on His face stopped my heart and took my breath away.  He knew what I had done and His heart was broken because I had done it.  He wasn't angry.  He had tears of love and pity in His eyes, and I wished that I could run to Him and tell Him I how sorry I was – that I hadn't meant to hurt Him...and in that very instant, I saw that He knew all that was in my heart and my mind and He loved me.  Through His tears, I could see He still loved me.”

So, which disciple is it?  Which disciple failed Jesus the most?  Judas?  Peter? Who was the most evil disciple?  We all jump to say it was Judas don't we?  But when you think it through, every single one of the disciples failed Jesus in his own way, didn't they?  They all left him to be carried away by the Roman soldiers.  So why do we think of Judas as the worst?  I mean, at least, we could argue that Judas thought he was doing something to forward what he thought was the mission of the Messiah.  All of the rest of the disciples were just plain scared! 

A big question is, was Judas doomed from the very beginning?  Some of the articles I've read seem to say so.  That's really sad to think about isn't it?  I mean, Jesus had a choice but Judas didn't?  What kind of thinking is that?  Now, I had a thought while I was studying this, that absolutely nobody mentioned, but it kind of makes sense to me.  Now, this is just my thought, but could it have been that Jesus knew that one of His disciples would betray Him, but not which one.  That it could have been that any one of the twelve could have turned against Jesus...What do you think?

I have two reasons for asking.  One, because I believe that everyone has betrayed Jesus.  We are all capable of selling Jesus out for next to nothing, and have done so, more than once.  We betray Jesus every time we take our lives out of His hands because we're too impatient or too arrogant to wait for His timing and His wisdom.  That's really what Judas is guilty of, isn't it?

We betray Jesus every time we deny that we know Him because we're afraid that the people around us won't understand and laugh at us or think less of us because we consider ourselves one of His followers.  That's all Peter is really guilty of.

And that leads me to the second part of this question:  Could Judas have been forgiven?  Could He have repented?  Again, some of the things I read imply that He did repent and was denied forgiveness.  That doesn't sound right.  And, again, this is just me, but I want to believe that he could have repented and Jesus would have forgiven him...in fact, that Jesus had already forgiven him.  But that Judas did not accept Jesus' forgiveness. 

Because, if even one of us has been denied forgiveness, than salvation becomes the arbitrary gift bestowed by an arbitrary god.  And that's just not the God I believe in.  So what would you do if you got to Heaven and Judas was there too? (I'm not claiming to have any inside knowledge; I'm just speculating.) 

We have Jesus' promise; check this out: 
“And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.”  James 5:15 and “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  1 John 1:9
Spend a few minutes thinking what an amazing gift Jesus gave us when He spread His arms wide and took all of our sins upon Himself.

East To West
Casting Crowns

Here I am Lord,
And I'm drowning
In your sea of forgetfulness
The chains of yesterday surround me
I yearn for peace and rest
I don’t want to end up where you found me
And it echoes in my mind,
Keeps me awake tonight
I know you cast my sin as far as the east is from the west
And I stand before you now as,
As though I've never sinned
But today I feel like I'm just one mistake away
From you leaving me this way
Jesus can you show me
Just how far the east is from the west
Cause I can't bear to see the man I've been
Rising up in me again
In the arms of your mercy I find rest,
Cause you know just how far the East is from the West
From one scarred hand to the other.
I start the day the war begins
Endless reminding of my sin
And time and time again your truth is drowned out
By the storm I'm in
Today I feel like I'm just one mistake away,
From you leaving me this way
Jesus can you show me,
Just how far the East is from the West
Cause I can't bear to see the man I've been
Come rising up in me again
In the arms of your mercy I find rest
'cause you know
Just how far the East is form the West
From one scarred hand to the other.
I know you've washed me white,
Turned my darkness into light
I need your peace to get me through,
To get me through this night
Can’t live by what I feel
But by the Truth your work reveals,
I'm not holding on to you
But you're holding on to me,
You’re holding on to me
Jesus you know
Just how far the East is from the West
I don't have to see the man I've been,
Come rising up in me again
In the arms of your mercy I find rest
'cause you know just how far the East is form the West,
From one scarred hand to the other.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Potato Chip Christians


Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 4.14.12

“The heart must receive the divine current, and let it flow out in rich streams of mercy and grace to other hearts. All who would win souls to Christ must be winsome.”[1]               
“Winsome,” that’s an old fashioned word, isn’t it? It’s certainly not one we use very often. Here are some synonyms for the word, “winsome:”  absorbing, alluring, appealing, attractive, captivating, charismatic, delightful, desirable, enamoring, engaging, enthralling, fascinating, inviting, irresistible, lovable, pleasant, pleasing, sweet, tantalizing, winning.”[2]

When was the last time you heard someone refer to his or her contact with a Christian in any of those terms?

One pastor uses a bag of potato chips to illustrate an effective way to make contact with people so that they will begin to want to get to know Jesus better. This pastor opens a bag of potato chips and then steps out into the congregation.  This is how he describes the object lesson:
“Turn to one person: ‘Want one? Help yourself!’“Then say: ‘I've learned that one of the simplest acts of grace in meeting someone is to simply be interested in them. Just ask them a question about something they care about in life. It's like turning to them with a bag of chips and saying, “Want one?”’“As you offer chips to more people in the audience, ask questions to serve as examples of what you mean: ‘Is that a good book you're reading? Want one?’ ‘What's it like to deal with people in your job? Want one?’ ‘Did you grow up around here? Want one?’“As you prepare to offer a chip to another person in the audience, say, ‘Or perhaps you can find a way to ask gently or discretely about deeper heart issues.’ Offer an example of what you mean: ‘How do you keep your balance with all this turmoil in your life? Want one?’“As you prepare to offer a chip to another person in the audience, say, ‘You know, there's a wonderful verse in the Bible that might encourage you. Want one?’ To another person: ‘Let me tell you a story about a Father whose son broke his heart. Want one?’ To another person: ‘You know what? I'm going to be praying for you. Want one?’“Then, return to the pulpit and offer a conclusion to the illustration: ‘Grace-accented conversations give people more than they deserve or expect. They are conversations rich in love and sincere interest, in unexpected sympathy and empathy, in undeserved hope and forgiveness. They are conversations which, by the Holy Spirit's miraculous help, touch something soul-deep—words that go where no one else has. Words like that are salty, tasty. They make a person want more. Though people may not realize it, you're grace-accented words are giving them a thirst for Jesus.’”[3]
Paul said something very similar in his letter to the Colossians. “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” Colossians 4:6

Remember the old potato chip ad: “Nobody can eat just one?” How often in our everyday lives do we come in contact with a person who doesn’t have an active, positive relationship with God, and, through our interaction with him or her, caused that person to want to know more about Jesus? Or has our contact caused the opposite reaction – leaving him with less interest than before in getting to know Jesus better?

A long time ago I worked as a waitress in a Mexican food restaurant in San Antonio. The restaurant was close to several churches and so on Sundays, what we called the “church crowd” would fill up the restaurant for their Sunday dinner. Unfortunately, this was not a group that the other waiters and waitresses looked forward to, in fact, it was usually a focal point of dread and did little to increase anyone’s desire to become more involved in Christianity.

Now, I know that on a person-by-person basis, some of the Christian customers were very nice, but the overall impression left by the church crowd was overwhelmingly negative.

Isn’t that sad? Most of my fellow waiters and waitresses were not church goers and the church crowd didn’t inspire them to become more involved in any church. As a Christian myself, I was often embarrassed by the behavior of these fellow Christians.

I haven’t heard the phrase in the last couple of years, but there used to be this image of American tourists that some folks called the ugly American. Do you remember that? It was portrayed with absolute cringe-inducing accuracy by Chevy Chase in National Lampoon’s European Vacation. Chevy Chase’s character in that movie left a bad taste for Americans, so that the next American that came along had a much more difficult time.

In the Christian world, the same thing can happen. If, in our dealings with people we are rude, abrasive, demanding, vindictive, or pushy, we are going to leave a bad taste for Christians after us. How can we show people how much Jesus loves them if they dread seeing us coming?
“Watchman Nee tells about a Chinese Christian who owned a rice paddy next to one owned by a communist man. The Christian irrigated his paddy by pumping water out of a canal, using one of those leg-operated pumps that make the user appear to be seated on a bicycle. Every day, after the Christian had pumped enough water to fill his field, the communist would come out, remove some boards that kept the water in the Christian's field and let all the water flow down into his own field. That way, he didn't have to pump.This continued day after day. Finally, the Christian prayed, ‘Lord, if this keeps up, I'm going to lose all my rice, maybe even my field. I've got a family to care for. What can I do?’ In answer to his request, the Lord put a thought in his mind. So, the next morning he arose much earlier, in the predawn hours of darkness, and started pumping water into the field of his communist neighbor. Then he replaced the boards and pumped water into his own rice paddy. In a few weeks both fields of rice were doing well—and the communist was converted.”[4]
So, let’s decide, today, to be potato chip Christians! Always leave folks wanting to know more about Jesus.


[1] E.G. White, That I May Know Him,” p. 218
[2] winsome. (n.d.). Roget's 21st Century Thesaurus, Third Edition. Retrieved April 06, 2012, from Thesaurus.com website: http://thesaurus.com/browse/winsome
[3] Lee Eclov, Vernon Hills, Illinois
[4] Making Things Right When Things Go Wrong (Howard, 1996)

Monday, April 2, 2012

Above My Pay Grade


Thoughts on the Sabbath School lesson for 4.7.12

What do you think of when I say the word ‘evangelism’ or the word ‘witnessing?’ Do they mean the same thing or are they different from one another? And, just who’s supposed to be doing them anyway?

Many of us like to believe that, whatever those two words mean, they’re someone else’s job, right? Evangelism is something preacher’s do in rented auditoriums. That’s not something I can do. And witnessing, well, that’s really more about how we behave in front of non-Christians, so as long as I look and act like a Christian in public, I’m good, don’t you think?

Check this out.  
“Atheist Penn Jillette is one half of Penn and Teller, a duo that has been headlining Vegas shows for years with comedy and the art of illusion. Penn has never been shy about his disbelief in God, often writing about his conviction in articles and best-selling books. Yet in an on-line video blog that can be found on YouTube, Penn shares a story about the time a gracious Christian businessman gave him a Bible as a gift. Penn goes on to use the story as an opportunity to point out that Christians who don't evangelize must really hate people. Here's the direct quote from his video blog:‘I've always said, you know, that I don't respect people who do not proselytize. I don't respect that at all. If you believe that there's a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that, uh, well, it's not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think that people shouldn't proselytize, [saying] “Just leave me alone and keep your religion to yourself”—uh, how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize them? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean, if I believed beyond the shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming to hit you, and you didn't believe it, and that truck was bearing down on you, there's a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.’”[1]
Wow! That’s pretty strong language, isn’t it? Keeping life-saving information to myself isn’t very ‘Christian’ behavior. So I’ve blown it on both counts, haven’t I? I didn’t evangelize or witness.

In her book, Evangelism, Ellen White defines evangelism as “opening the Scriptures to others, warning men and women of what is coming upon the world,”[2]

Is there anything in that definition that you and I couldn’t do?  She doesn’t say that evangelism takes any kind of specialized degree; it’s just “opening the Scriptures” to people.  As Penn would say, yanking people out from in front of that truck that we know is coming and they don’t.

Witnessing, on the other hand, is sharing our individual experience with Jesus with whom the individuals we come in contact.
“All who are on the Lord’s side are to confess Christ. ‘Ye are My witnesses, saith the Lord.’ The faith of the genuine believer will be made manifest in purity and holiness of character. Faith works by love and purifies the soul, and with faith there will be corresponding obedience, a faithful doing of the words of Christ. Christianity is always intensely practical, adapting itself to all the circumstances of actual life. ‘Ye are My witnesses.’ To whom?—To the world; for you are to bear about with you a holy influence. Christ is to abide in your soul, and you are to talk of Him and make manifest the charms of His character.”[3]   
We, as Christians, have a real problem though. A few folks who have called themselves Christians, have failed to “make manifest the charms of His character.”  And that’s really sad because without positive witnessing, no evangelism can happen.

I ran into that brick wall just recently. A good friend of mine and I were talking about some trivia of the day when a third friend walked up and started kidding about some areas in which his and my Christian community have some internal disagreement. The first friend then went on to remember a negative experience she had had many years ago that led to her rejecting my belief because “those people are crazy; they don’t follow the Bible.”

I have to admit that I was crushed.  I have been praying for almost a year that my witness would help the Holy Spirit to soften her heart once more.

What a set back! Just because my friends earlier relationship with my Christian family was unpleasant, my ability to witness to her is more difficult.
“In an interview with World magazine, author and speaker Mike Bechtle questioned the church's use of what he would call spam evangelism. He believes that when the gospel is shared outside of relationship, unbelievers often put up thicker emotional walls. He shared a personal story from his past to emphasize his point:‘A college classmate decided to walk down Central Avenue in Phoenix at lunchtime and ask women to kiss him. He wanted to see how many people he would have to ask before someone took him up on it. After being repeatedly cursed, ignored, and slapped a couple of times, the 98th woman gave him a kiss. Using the logic of spam evangelism, he might say, ‘It was worth it, because I actually got one person to kiss me.’ I wondered about the other 97 women who might be more hardened than ever, more suspicious, and more wary of men approaching them on the street. In the same way, I think a lot of unbelievers have been hardened by aggressive witnessing techniques.”[4]
Are you and I making it harder for the believers who come after us to witness or evangelize the folks around us because we are not portraying our Savior in a positive and endearing way? Are we leaving all of the sharing to the preachers?
“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen.” Matthew  28:18-19
Jesus didn’t say that some of His disciples needed more school; He didn’t say that some had to stand on the sidelines because they didn’t have the right credentials.  Jesus just said, “Go.” And they went.



[1] Bill White, Paramount, California
[2] E.G. White, Evangelism, p.17
[3] E.G. White, Messages to Young People, p.200
[4] Marvin Olasky, "Evangelism for Introverts," World magazine (10-07-06