Monday, May 28, 2012

Guilty Bystanders

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson  for 6.2.2012

Do you know what a “wall flower” is? Someone, at a dance usually, who spent most of his or her time standing and watching rather than participating.  About ten years ago, “lurkers” were the folks who went into chat rooms on the internet and just read what everybody was talking about, but didn’t contribute to the discussion.

Some of us, for good or bad, are more comfortable standing on the sidelines of whatever is going on than we are getting out in the middle of things and participating. I am one of those people; we are called “introverts.” We’re not necessarily shy, we just prefer to watch and listen to the stuff going on around us rather than taking an active role. I don’t believe being an introvert or an extrovert is, in and of itself, a good or bad thing. They’re just different ways in which we, as humans, interact with the world around us.

Having said that, wall flowers or not, we are all called to actively spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Now, I don’t believe all of us need to rush right out and volunteer to do an evangelistic series at the nearest auditorium, but we are each responsible to tell our personal experience with Jesus to the individuals we live  and work with. There are no innocent bystanders we’re talking about witnessing. Comfortable or not, we each have a job to do.
“For ‘whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!’” Romans 10:13-15
Whether we like it or not, we are each called to “preach the gospel of peace” and “bring tidings of good things.” How we carry out our calling is up to us. It doesn’t take any special training. We don’t need any degrees or diplomas. We just need to tell someone what Jesus has done for us.

Lots of us want to believe that since the pastor has had specialized training that he’s the one responsible for all the evangelism that goes on in the church. We would like to believe that one on one witnessing and bible study are for the elders, the deacons and the bible workers to do. But that’s just not true.

The truth is, no matter how well those people do their jobs; we make up the point of personal contact. If we’re not doing our part, the mission is not complete.
“Our heavenly Father has been pleased to make men co-laborers with himself in the work of human redemption. Those who have been commissioned to preach the gospel are not the only ones whom he will use as his instruments. All whose minds have been illuminated by the Holy Spirit will in their turn be required to enlighten others. ‘None of us liveth to himself.’ Every individual has his station of duty in the accomplishment of God’s great plan. And every one who receives and obeys the light which God has given, will be a living witness for Christ and the truth.”[1]
Mrs. White doesn’t leave any room for doubt there, does she? Every one of us has an assigned task to do. Do we need to be trained to do our task? It couldn’t hurt, but do we really need someone else to teach us how to tell what Jesus has done for us? Not really. Will we make mistakes? Probably. Should the fear of making a mistake stop us? No. Jesus promised us that the Holy Spirit would give us the words to say when we need them, right?
“But if you have an eye single to his glory, you need not take thought as to how you shall witness for his truth. “‘Take no thought how or what ye shall speak: ... for it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.’ How can the Spirit of God communicate with you? It is the Holy Spirit that is to bring to your remembrance whatsoever Jesus has said unto you. Are you now hearing the words of Christ? Does the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom? … O if you were hidden in Christ, if you were on the Rock of Ages, when you are brought before kings and great men, it would be evident that Jesus was at your side, and you would know just what answer to give, for the Spirit would give you what you should utter. Praise God for this promise!”[2]
Have we run out of excuses yet? Witnessing is not just the preacher’s job; it’s not just the deacons’ or the elders’ job. It’s our job, too.

Do you have any idea how many people are waiting to be introduced to Jesus?
“In Matthew 9:37, Jesus tells his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.’ The results of a 2007 survey illustrates [sic] this point well:• 82 percent—the number of un-churched people who are receptive to attending church if invited and escorted by a friend• 21 percent—the number of church-going Christians who invited someone to church in 2006”[3]
Isn’t that tragic? Notice it doesn’t say that they’re receptive to a flyer they get in the mail, or an advertisement they see on TV. They want to be invited and escorted by a friend!

Wow! Even we introverts can invite someone to come to church with us.

What I’m getting at is this: many of us come to church every week and sit in the same spot. We listen to the sermon, wish our church friends a “Happy Sabbath,” and then we go home and don’t think about anything spiritual again until the next Sabbath. We do our best to keep a low profile, that way nobody will ask us to do anything extra. Who’s got time for that? We are wall flowers, lurkers, bystanders, and we’re okay with that.

So is Satan. He would like nothing more than for all us to show up for church every week, but to leave all the soul-winning to the pastor. The truth is, the pastor can only do so much. Maybe we should look at pastors as more like coaches. They give us our weekly pep-talk and send us out to find new folks to join the team.

We’ve learned from experience that no matter how good the pastor is, if a person doesn’t feel welcome in a church family, he or she quits coming. No matter how many people a pastor baptizes, if the church members don’t immediately start building relationships with them, they won’t stay.

What does that mean to me, as an introvert? It means that every time someone slips out of the backdoor of my church, I’m guilty of not sharing the joy I’ve found in Jesus with a baby Christian. I’m guilty of standing by and waiting for someone else to do my job. And, honestly, no one else can do my job. God has equipped me with a particular set of experiences that will speak specifically to the needs of some other person. If I don’t share my testimony with anyone, I am a guilty bystander.

Don’t be a guilty bystander. Share Jesus.

[1] E.G. White, Review and Herald, February 9, 1886, par. 4
[2] E.G. White, Review and Herald, April 26, 1892, par. 9
[3] Bill White, Paramount, California

Monday, May 21, 2012


Thoughts on the Sabbath School lesson for 5.26.12

Have you ever tried to learn how to play a new game by just reading the directions? It’s pretty hard to do, isn’t it? It’s much easier if someone in the group already knows how to play the game and they walk you through the first couple of times.

Have you ever wondered how skateboarders and motocross riders learn to do what they do? Do they sit in classes, read books on their tricks, take tests over the physics involved and write papers? In fact, a person could read an infinite number of books about how to skateboard, but until he or she actually got on a skateboard and tried to ride it, he isn’t going to learn how, right?

When Jesus called His disciples, He followed the same pattern of teaching that we now know ensures the most success. First, He talked about what He wanted them to learn; next, He showed them, then He had them try it, both with supervision and without. That’s how apprentices used to learn their tasks.

We don’t have many apprentices around anymore, but my father, who was born in 1910, began his working life as a blacksmith’s apprentice.  Since he was kind of on the cusp of what we would consider “old world” ways of thinking and “modern” ways, he went to school too. He became a tool and die maker/machinist and never lost his love of creating things with his hands. He was also a sculptor and could make pretty much anything out of metal, stone or wood.

Now, even though my father learned his skill mostly through practice, I remember that he had a book he would refer to from time to time. It was called the Machinist’s Handbook. I really couldn’t tell you what all it had in it, even though I have looked through it many times, because it made absolutely no sense to me, but he could look through its pages and find a solution to a problem that he had encountered in one of his tasks. He even had parts of that book memorized because they were the most helpful to him. Hm…are you thinking what I’m thinking?

We could say that the disciples were Jesus’ apprentices, couldn’t we? Apprentice fishers of men.
“And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ They immediately left their nets and followed Him.” Matthew 4:18-20
“The prompt, unquestioning obedience of these men, with no promise of wages, seems remarkable; but the words of Christ were an invitation that carried with it an impelling power. Christ would make these humble fishermen, in connection with Himself, the means of taking men out of the service of Satan, and placing them in the service of God. In this work they would become his witnesses, bearing to the world His truth unmingled with the traditions and sophistries of men. By practicing His virtues, by walking and working with Him, they were to be qualified to be fishers of men.”[1]
Can you imagine what that must have been like for the men that Jesus called? Did they really understand what Jesus was calling them to do? Did they have any idea what was involved in being a fisher of men? I’m thinking, probably not. And they went anyway…isn’t that odd? Do you think you would have gone? Did Jesus call to other people who chose not to go with Him? Do you realize that Jesus is calling us, right this moment, to become fishers of men, just like He did those men?

How do we become fishers of men? I mean, the disciples had Jesus right there with them for three and a half years and they still didn’t really figure it out until after Jesus died. How can we even begin to learn?

Well, in addition to the Holy Spirit, we do have the Bible. We can sit at Jesus’ feet almost like the disciples did and learn from His words. In some ways, it might even be easier for us, because it’s condensed to the most important information.

We have to remember though, that it’s easy to get stuck in the book phase of learning. We can get all caught up in theory and debate, but that’s probably not going to lead anyone to Jesus.

A few years ago, I decided to learn to crochet. I got a book or two, I looked on the internet. I read how to get started and I looked at picture after picture of all the different kinds of stitches. I looked at pictures of afghans and baby sweaters. But until I picked up a crochet hook and some yarn and started practicing, I hadn’t learned how to crochet.

Reading the directions is fine, but we have to move on from there. We have to start practicing what we’ve read. How many of us come to church every week, study our lesson, read our Bibles, and that’s all? We’re stuck in the first phase of becoming fishers of men.

That’s all good stuff to do, but it isn’t enough. We have to move on to phase two: practicing what we’ve been learning.

What? You don’t think you’re ready?
“One of the lessons I have learned in six and half decades of life is that very few dreams should go on hold while you improve the shortcomings of your life …. To be sure, there are times when you need to stop what you are doing and focus on conquering a flaw. But if you wait till all your shortcomings are remedied, your dreams will die. All our advances are with a limp.
“If you wait till you are beyond criticism to pursue your dream, you will never do it. You won't marry or stay married. You won't decide to have children or raise them. You won't take your first job or keep it. You won't go into missions or stay there …. Few things paralyze people more than their own imperfections. And there are always people around to remind you of your flaws and suggest you can't move forward until you're better.”[2]
You know what? On our own, we’ll never be ready. And Satan will make sure that we never, ever feel ready. We have to start anyway, holding Jesus’ hand, and He’ll take us where we need to be. We just have to start doing something. Jesus didn’t spend three and a half years teaching His disciples and then say, “OK, the teaching’s over, go home.” No! That’s when the real work started! If you doubt that, you need to re-read the book of Acts.

I’m sure that sometimes the disciples didn’t feel like they could do what they were supposed to be doing…and without the Holy Spirit, they couldn’t. But, with the Holy Spirit, they could do absolutely anything!

The same goes for you and me. There will be times when we’re tired or when we mess things up or just don’t know what to do next. But Jesus is right with us, whispering to us, “for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20b

[1] E.G. White, Gospel Workers, page 24.
[2] John Piper, Bloodlines (Crossway, 2011), p. 109

Thursday, May 17, 2012

In the Same Boat

“And after He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him.  And suddenly, behold, there arose a violent storm on the sea, so that the boat was being covered up by the waves; but He was sleeping.  And they went and awakened Him, saying, Lord, rescue and preserve us! We are perishing!  And He said to them, Why are you timid and afraid, O you of little faith? Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great and wonderful calm (a perfect peaceableness).  And the men were stunned with bewildered wonder and marveled, saying, What kind of Man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him!”  Matthew 8:23-27
I think we can all imagine the storm itself:  The waves crashing, the water coming into the boat, the boat being pushed all over the place by the wind and the waves.  But there are a couple of things that a harder to imagine.

One, how anybody could sleep through that, and two, was there a way that the disciples could have come to Jesus and asked for His help, that would not have constituted a lack of faith?

A problem for me is that in the painting, the boat is so small that I can't imagine a place where anyone could even lie down, much less sleep, even on a calm sea...hmmm.  But that's probably beside the point.

Anyway, let's picture this:  We're on a small commuter plane that holds about 13 or 14 people, counting the pilot.  We're flying with Jesus up to Dallas or Oklahoma City.  As soon as we get on the plane, Jesus picks a seat, and goes straight to sleep.  Meanwhile, we hit turbulence.  Not just a bump now or then, but the roller-coaster kind where things start falling out of the overhead bins.  And we begin to worry that the structure of the plane won't be able to handle the stress of the turbulence.  Do we wake Jesus up and ask Him to save us?  Or is it enough to know that Jesus, awake or asleep, is on the plane with us? 

Tough question.  Does having true faith mean we're never afraid of anything?  Oh, me of little faith! (That's not a typo!)

If faith is the opposite of fear, I have big problems!  Admittedly, I'm better than I used to be, but, wow...How do I get to the point that just knowing that Jesus is in the boat with me is enough to help me not be afraid? (Not a rhetorical question!)

At least I know I'm not alone.  God spends a lot of time telling us not to be afraid of one thing or another.
“Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.” Deuteronomy 31:6
 “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” Isaiah 41:10
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.“ 1 John 4:18
“And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:..”Revelation 1:17
So, don't say it out loud, but how many things in your life have your done out of fear?  If you're anything like me, a lot.  Or, how many things have you NOT done because you were afraid?  Yeah, me too.

So really, forget boats and airplanes and storms, I can't even be brave in my every day life!  Maybe it's just me, but when I think of all the times I've sat quietly by while people that I consider friends make jokes about religion and God, I feel pretty discouraged. What about the opportunities to share the truth that I know that I haven't taken because I was afraid of being made fun of or laughed at.  Jesus didn't worry about that kind of thing.  The disciples finally came to the place where peoples' opinions of them were not important. 

How do we get to the place where we can stand boldly for Jesus when our lives are threatened when we can't even do it now, when the worst that could happen is that someone might think we're silly.

Read what Mrs. White has to say:
“God is the 'Rock of our salvation,' a present help in every time of need. Then let us be no longer babes in Christ, but bold and firm soldiers of the cross, rejoicing in suffering the will of God.” Gospel Workers (1892), page 425.“Surely there is need now of bold, fearless Calebs, who, under the influence of the Spirit, will use the talents of hearing and speaking with heroic courage, disregarding all personal dangers and anxieties.”  Rolling Back the Reproach (1900), page 29.
Would it help if we could remember that Jesus is right there with us all the time.  He's waiting for us to reach out and take his hand just like a child taking a parent's hand.  When a child has his parent's hand, he's brave!  When we have Jesus' hand, we can be brave, too.

Let's reach out boldly and take Jesus' hand so that we can stand and tell  people t what He's done for us.
“What then shall we say to [all] this? If God is for us, who [can be] against us? [Who can be our foe, if God is on our side?]” Romans 8:31
And let's not forget, Jesus is right there, in the same boat with us!

Nichole Nordeman
The gate is wide
The road is paved in moderation
The crowd is kind and quick to pull you in
Welcome to the middle ground
It's safe and sound and
Until now it's where I've been
Cuz it's been fear
That ties me down to everything
But it's been love, Your love
That cuts the strings
So long, status quo
I think I've just let go
You make me wanna be brave
The way it always was
It's no longer good enough
You make me wanna be brave
Brave, brave
I am small
And I speak when I'm spoken to
But I am willing to risk it all
Say Your name
Just Your name, and I'm ready to jump
Even ready to fall
Why did I
Take this vow of compromise?
Why did I
Try to keep it all inside?
I've never known a fire that didn't begin with a flame
And every storm will start with just a drop of rain
But if You believe in me
That changes everything

Monday, May 14, 2012

For the Band

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 5.19.12

Have you ever been part of a team? Maybe it wasn’t a sports team; maybe it wasn’t even called a ‘team’, it was just a group of people all working toward the same goal. I can’t say I was ever part of a sports team, but I was a member of my high school band.

We came to school an hour early almost every day for early rehearsal and spent several weeks in the summer learning the basics of marching and playing our instruments at the same time. Most of my high school friends were in the band; not really a hardship though, because the band had over 200 members.

Between my freshman year and my senior year we became a really good band, so good that during my senior year, we were invited to march in the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena, California on New Year’s Day. You may not be aware (I wasn’t) but being invited is really the easy part. The bands that end up marching in that parade have raised their own money to get there…THAT’s the hard part! And our band wasn’t small! So, even in 1976, plane tickets and hotel rooms for that many band members, plus chaperones, involved a substantial amount of money.

We were frantic to go though, so we started trying to figure out how to raise that kind of money. It became very clear, very quickly, that a bake sale or two was not going to cut it. We came up with a really big plan – we would set a world record of continuous band performance and individual band members would get pledges for the minutes they played.

Oh, sure, we still had the bake sales, the carwashes, the garage sales, but all year long we planned and worked toward that world record.

We talked to the Guinness Book of World Record people and found out that all the rules and regulations and how carefully the records had to be kept and what kinds of documentation we needed. We set the date for the weekend after school would be out and started getting pledges. We found a venue (a local shopping mall) where we hoped to get lots of folks to come out and watch and we started getting sponsors and advertising. One of the radio stations in town agreed to come out and do live broadcasts. We called it “The Ram Band-A-Rama” and it actually became a big deal.

Now, in case you don’t know, (we didn’t) the world record for continuous band performance, in 1976, was around 48 hours. And the challenger for the record had to beat the existing record by five hours. So, we had to play, as a band, for 53 hours. Everyone who started had to finish, and individuals could take a five minute break every hour or a 15 minute break every three hours.

I’m pretty sure that not one of us had any real concept of how long 53 hours was. Oh sure, we knew how it looked on  paper; two nights, one full day and parts of two other days, but didn’t have an inkling of what it was going to mean to not just stay awake, but to play musical instruments and actual songs, for that amount of time. We were in for a huge surprise.

Our kick off that first morning was impressive. Not all 200 band members volunteered to be part of our “band-a-thon” but we had at least 100 band members involved. We made quite a bit of noise in that mall and got lots of attention. One of the former mayors of the city came and directed, people stood around and watched and clapped along. We played loud and well. The people who came to watch us put money in a big bass drum we’d put out for that purpose. We were really having a great time. The first day was easy. The first night wasn’t that bad either; the adrenaline still carried us along.

But there was a point, about 2 or 3 in the morning, where we started to fade. Part of the problem was, nobody had really thought about nourishment. Water became a real issue because this was a long time before anybody ever thought of putting water in bottles and selling it. And, as far as food went, we had all packed a few sandwiches and whatever else and that was it.

By about 9 that second morning, we were on the verge of a complete crash, until one wonderful lady, no idea who she was, walked through the mall and thought to herself, these children need food! She went home and cooked huge pots of beans and made who knows how many tortillas and came back and fed us real food. It was amazing how much that helped.

That whole second day, while people were in the mall, we did ok. We didn’t sound all that great anymore, but we were still playing. As the mall closed that second evening though, and everybody except the band and the parents who were there to help left, the exhaustion really hit us hard. Not only that, some band members had blisters on their fingers, some folks’ lips were bleeding, we still hadn’t really gotten enough or the right kind of nutrition, and we hadn’t used our 5/15 minute breaks wisely earlier, so they were worse than no break at all by midnight or the second night. I’m not sure any of us thought we would make it till morning. But we kept playing and encouraging each other. We sounded awful, but we wouldn’t stop. No one wanted to let his or her band members (team mates) down. It was that second night that this wasn’t about any single person in the group. We were a unit and we would make it or not, together.

And we did make it! We played just over 53 hours. When our band director came in that third morning and was there with us at the big finish, it was a really amazing moment. The last piece the band played was “The Stars and Stripes Forever” and it was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard. I still tear up every time I hear it.

Now don’t go looking through any old Guinness Books of World records because, even though we broke the world record, some other (much smaller) band broke our record before the next book was published. Oh well. Too bad it was before the day of the commemorative T-shirt…we would have at least gotten that.
But here’s the real kicker. Our band was invited to go to the 1977 Rose Bowl Parade. Those of us who graduated in 1976, didn’t get to go. A whole bunch of incoming freshman, who hadn’t been part of the band while we were doing all the things that got us invited, got to go in our places. I didn’t occur to us not to help because we weren’t going to go. We were part of the team, the band; even if we couldn’t go to Pasadena, we did our best to get the rest of the team there.

The good news is, when Jesus comes again, nobody who wants to go with Him will have to stay here. Let’s not forget that we’re the team whose job it is to make sure that nobody misses out on Heaven. It’s just after midnight on that last night before He comes. We’re all exhausted, but He’ll be here soon. Let’s hang onto each other so nobody gives up.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Great Commission

I have learned that there are lots and lots of opinions floating around about The Great Commission.  It seems folks can't really agree on what it it; how it should be carried out; who should carry it and who  should receive it.

What am I missing?  Here we have Matthew's version:
“Then Jesus came to them and said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'"  Matthew 28:18-20
Mark's version:
“He said to them, 'Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.'" Mark 16:15-20
And Luke's version:
“Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, 'This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.'" Luke 24:45-49
Do you sense any ambiguity or disagreement at all?  Maybe I'm over-simplifying (It's one of my hobbies) but The Great Commission seems pretty straight forward to me.  What do you think?

Jesus sat everybody down around the campfire and said, “It's time to get to work.”  And with some serious nudging (ok shoving) from the Holy Spirit, these guys went from being the guys hiding in the upper room to being the men who set the world on fire for Jesus.  Wow.  They didn't have any problems understanding any part of what Jesus told them to do.  So, then, why do some folks make it so complicated?

You need to study the right books.  You need to go to these certain classes (that will incidentally cost you a fortune).  Little churches are better than big ones.  Big churches are better than little ones.  Small home groups are the only way.  Evangelism only worked in the old days.  Evangelism only works in other countries.  You have to have a big church budget. 

I really don't think the disciples worried about any of those things.  Jesus said, “Go” and they went.  Just like when He said, “Follow Me” and the did.  Not a lot of intellectualizing going on there.

Some people might say that the disciples had Jesus standing right there in front of them and so it was easier to follow Jesus instructions.  Maybe, but then that doesn't explain all the folks who didn't follow Jesus, even when He was right there with them everyday.  And, we have the added bonus of hindsight.  Just think how much differently things must have looked to the disciples when they didn't know how everything was going to turn out.  It's pretty easy for us to look back at them and think it looked pretty easy. 

I think the bigger issue is though, that we are really good at making excuses for not doing what we know we ought to be doing...well, ok, I'm speaking for myself.  But, if we can say we can't witness because we haven't had the right training or read the right books, then we can feel like we're off the hook for the moment, right?  We tell ourselves that we're not good at talking to strangers or giving sermons.  We don't know how to turn conversations around to God.  But we know, deep down, that none of those things matter to Jesus. 

I heard a man say on one of my favorite programs, Really Living, that only two things are really important:  to love Jesus with all of our heart and to teach other people to love Him too.

Pretty simple isn't it? 

So what still holds us back? I think sometimes we think it's just too hard.  But read this from Ellen White:
“In simple trusting faith believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Take right hold of a power which you cannot create but which is for you. Let the workers be filled with a spirit of cheerfulness and thanksgiving and rejoicing. Let every one make a personal consecration of himself or herself to God's service. Let them surrender their hearts to the working of the Holy Spirit, placing themselves in the right relation to God. It is time that we believed that all heaven is interested in the work before us. Christ came to this world to give Himself a sacrifice for the saving of sinners. Then believe, believe, that He will be with all who give themselves unreservedly to this work.” Bible Training School, December 1, 1905, “The Word of God”
That doesn't sound hard or complicated, does it?  “In simple trusting faith believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Yeah, I can do that.  I can take hold of Jesus power and be cheerful, thankful and ... rejoice-ful(?) ...  Anyway, I am willing to surrender my heart to the Holy Spirit and to be used by Jesus.  What about you?

I think sometimes we get caught up in wanting to do that big thing for God and never get around to it, because it involves money, planning, training, and other people.  And we're so busy waiting for time to do that big thing, that we miss a whole lot of little things we could do everyday.  Little things that may not even look like witnessing or evangelism or discipleship.  It's that whole, “Pay it forward” thing, only not so humanistic and new agey.  All Jesus ever asked us to do was to share His love and His salvation with the people we meet.  He didn't say we had to go to India to meet these people, but if you want to do that, that's great.  He didn't say we had to be great public speakers, but if you happen to be, great!  We don't even all have to be outgoing, gregarious people, because the quiet approach works too.  Each one of us has a personality trait, a gift, a talent, or an experience that Jesus gave us so that we could help someone learn about Him.  It doesn't have to be showy or even obvious to anyone, but the person Jesus put it there for...but they'll see it in you and be drawn to Jesus because of it.

Very simply, though, after all the discussion, all the excuses and all the delaying tactics, Jesus gave us a job to do.  And because He gave us the job, He gave us the tools to do it with.  Once we've surrendered to Him, He gives us everything we need to be His lead team – the folks who go out ahead of time and get people ready for His coming.

Remember that guy from the '80's football games who always stood on the front row and held up a sign with John 3:16 on it?  What did you think of him?  That he was kinda goofy?  But think about it...he was doing something for Jesus.  How many millions of people do you think saw that sign over the years?  I mean, how often do you remember seeing it?  I must have seen it 10 or 20 times at least!  Do you think it's just possible that somebody, somewhere saw that guy with the sign for the umpteenth time and thought, “Hmm, I wonder what that's about?”  Looked up the text and found what he (or she) had been looking for?  Do you think there will be anybody in Heaven because of that guy?  It's entirely possible...

The point is, that guy quit thinking about it and did something.  He didn't worry about what other folks thought.  I'll bet he took a lot of verbal abuse at the games, don't you?  And he had to pay admission for all those games – that was a lot of money.  But he went, and he watched the game, and spread the word about Jesus.  That doesn't sound that hard does it?
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Under the Influence

Picture this: Two beautiful people sit on a beach, the perfect breeze blows around them. The seagulls call all around. They look deep into each other’s eyes. They’re smiling at each other as though they share the best secret in the universe. The camera zooms in for a close up; the music swells and then, one of them turns to the camera and says, “Everything is better when you follow Jesus.”

Oh, come on! That’s just silly, right? You can’t market Jesus and salvation like you would beer or soft drinks, can you? Maybe not. What would you think of an info-mercial where members of the live studio audience told about how much better their lives were since they’d accepted Jesus and the pitch-man offered to send you, for no extra charge, an additional out-pouring of the Holy Spirit all for three easy payments of $19.95?

Still doesn’t feel right, does it? Have you ever stopped to think that, in a way; we’re being “witnessed” to all the time?

To “bear witness” is a verb that means to “testify [or] authenticate.” Some synonyms are: “affirm, announce, argue, attest, be a witness, bear out, bear witness , bespeak, betoken, certify, confirm, corroborate, countersign, … , depose, endorse, give evidence, give testimony, indicate, say under oath, sign, stand for, subscribe, vouch for.”[1]

What would happen though if someone asked for thirty seconds of your time to influence you or witness to you to drink a beer, eat in a certain restaurant or use a particular laundry detergent? You’d think they were being very pushy. But advertising companies make billions of dollars a year to do just that. Think about the “witnessing” going on during the Super Bowl alone! And we look forward to being witnessed to, don’t we? Some people claim they only watch the Super Bowl to see the ads. We go online to get sneak peeks of the ads. News programs talk about which of the ads were the most popular. We forget that the ads aren’t part of the entertainment, but that we’re being influenced to do or to buy something.

The battle to influence us goes much farther than just ads; TV shows, movies, music, the internet. No matter where we go, someone is trying to influence us, in subtle and not so subtle ways, about how we should think and act … and we love it. Right up to the moment when someone brings religion into the mix.

That’s when things get uncomfortable, isn’t it? If someone wants to witness to us, we feel like he or she is “pushing his beliefs on us.” We might get a bit defensive and start pushing back, with proof texts and such. And, if we’re asked to witness to someone else, well, we go all shy and stuttery, don’t we? “Oh, I can’t witness to anyone; I haven’t any training.”

What would be different, though, if we changed the word witness for influence? That makes a huge difference, don’t you think? We think of witnessing as something we do, while influence is more like what we are. In fact, whether or not we are purposefully witnessing, we are always being an influence. Does that terrify you just a little bit? It does me.

You can probably think of several times when celebrity or athlete gets into some kind of trouble and someone makes a comment about how this person’s behavior will affect all the young people who look up to the celebrity. Almost invariably, the celebrity will say something like, “I never said I was anybody’s role model.”

It doesn’t work that way, though, does it? All of us are witnesses or influences all the time. We don’t get to pick and choose. We like to talk about the people who will come to us in heaven and thank us because something we did, either consciously or unconsciously, influenced them to give their lives to Christ. But what about the flip side of that coin, will there be anyone who is not in heaven because of something we have done or not done?
“Paul urged his brethren to ask themselves what influence their words and deeds would have upon others and to do nothing, however innocent in itself, that would seem to sanction idolatry or offend the scruples of those who might be weak in the faith. ‘Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. Give none offense, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God.’”[2]  
Whether we like it or not, our influence for or against God is never turned off. So let’s make sure that we are influencing people to want to get to know God more. How do we do that? Well, it’s not by proving that we have all the answers. Winning the bible truth debate only proves that we care more about being right that being a friend. Sometimes it’s better to make those debate points in your mind if you have to make them at all, and just be a good friend who is listening and caring.
“Your success will not depend so much upon your knowledge and accomplishments, as upon your ability to find your way to the heart.”[3]
Remember the old saying: “You can draw more bees with honey than with vinegar.” We can’t share Jesus if nobody wants to be around us, right?
“Our time here is short. We can pass through this world but once; as we pass along, let us make the most of life. The work to which we are called does not require wealth or social position or great ability. It requires a kindly, self-sacrificing spirit and a steadfast purpose. A lamp, however small, if kept steadily burning, may be the means of lighting many other lamps. Our sphere of influence may seem narrow, our ability small, our opportunities few, our acquirements limited; yet wonderful possibilities are ours through a faithful use of the opportunities of our own homes. If we will open our hearts and homes to the divine principles of life, we shall become channels for currents of life-giving power. From our homes will flow streams of healing, bringing life, and beauty, and fruitfulness where now are barrenness and dearth.”[4]
I don’t know about you, but I want to put my life under the influence of the Holy Spirit so that witness for Jesus will be a blessing.
“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:13-16

[1] bear witness. (n.d.). Roget's 21st Century Thesaurus, Third Edition. Retrieved May 04, 2012, from website: witness
[2] E.G. White, Acts of the Apostles, p. 317
[3] E.G. White, Gospel Workers, p. 193
[4] E.G. White, The Adventist Home, p. 32