Thursday, June 28, 2012

Don't Be Afraid

So what are you afraid of? And why are you afraid?

The first question has many answers. Heights, public speaking, cockroaches, cancer, the list is virtually endless. Everybody is afraid of something. Probably lots of somethings. Mostly we go through life coping with our fears, learning ways to live with them. But everyone is afraid of something.

The second question doesn’t have so many answers. Why are we afraid?

For me, I think I’m afraid of the unknown, and ultimately I’m afraid of the unknown because I’m afraid of not being in control.

Maybe all of our fears are like that. A person who fears heights is overtaken with the dread of falling—losing control of their balance and within seconds, their life. A fear of public speaking puts you in a spot where you are the center of attention, but not in a good way. Death, and all the ways we might die, is the ultimate loss of control.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Put Out Into the Deep

My parents lived through the Great Depression and it changed them forever. I’m sure that’s why their plans for me centered on a stable and lucrative career. They expected me to get a degree in accounting and then go on to law school. “You can write your own ticket,” I was told.

But Someone else was writing my ticket. I became a Christian, and, much to my mother’s dismay, I got a degree in religion, and went on to seminary. I became a church planter and a pastor, neither of which could be described as financially stable or lucrative.

When we follow Christ, the Lord leads us into adventures we could never have imagined before we met Him. Sometimes those adventures don’t make a great deal of sense to us, or to the people around us, at the time.

For example, remember the story in Luke 5 of the great catch of fish? Jesus told Peter “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch” (Luke 5:4).

Peter and his partners had been up all night fishing. Despite their skills as professional fishermen, they came back to shore empty-handed. They beached their boats and began the tedious task of washing, repairing, drying, and folding the huge dragnets that were the tools of their trade.

So when Jesus, a carpenter by trade, told them to “put out into the deep,” it really made no sense. But, out of respect for Christ, Peter said, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets” (v. 5).

Well, you know the rest. It was the largest catch of fish anyone had ever seen. It was a net-tearing, boat-sinking, mind-blowing, paradigm-shifting catch of fish. Turns out that Jesus, who made the water, the fish, and the fishermen, had a plan that included more than business as usual.

I love the Savior, and admire His sense of adventure. When He says, “put out into the deep,” He’s got something special planned.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Loveliness of Christ

Sam was the oldest child of a wealthy farmer. He was a good student, and got a master’s degree by the time he was 21. His family was religious without really knowing Christ.

He ended up becoming a teacher, but after only two years, was forced to resign. He was said to have “behaved inappropriately” with a young woman. He married the girl.

This scandal led to Sam’s becoming a Christian, going back to school, and entering the ministry. He spent nine years as the pastor of a country church, and an older colleague said of him, “”He seemed to be always praying, always preaching, always visiting the sick…I thought he would have flown out of the pulpit when he came to speak of Jesus Christ. He was never in his right element but when he was commending him.”

This young man was, like Jesus, a man of sorrows. His wife died after a long and painful illness. Except for one daughter, all the children she and Sam had died at an early age.

His own suffering led him to be a comfort to thousands of others. When the government forced him out of his church, he wrote many letters to his former church members. These letters are remarkable for their wisdom about life, suffering, and especially about the sweetness of communion with Christ.

Sam’s full name is Samuel Rutherford, and he lived in Scotland from 1600 – 1661. (The biographical info I took from Joel Beeke's Meet the Puritans, pp. 721ff).

Here are a few beautiful quotes from some of Samuel Rutherford's letters.
The great Master Gardener, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in a wonderful providence, with his own hand, planted me here, where by his grace, in this part of his vineyard, I grow; and here I will abide till the great Master of the vineyard think fit to transplant me.

They are not lost to you that are laid up in Christ’s treasury in heaven. At the resurrection ye shall meet with them: there they are, sent before but not sent away. Your Lord loveth you, who is homely to take and give, borrow and lend.

I have little, little of him; yet I long for more.
He taketh the bairns [children] in his arms when they come to a deep water; at least, when they lose ground, and are put to swim, then his hand is under their chin.

Let him make anything out of me, so being he be glorified in my salvation: for I know I am made for him.

My dear brother, I will think it comfort if ye speak my name to our Well-Beloved wherever ye are. I am mindful of you.
Rutherford “admired Christ,” and his writings from so long ago are helping me to admire Him, too. Maybe you’d like to get a copy of the little book I took the above quotes from. It’s called The Loveliness of Christ. (Click here for the link.)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Oranges

At our recent anniversary celebration, our daughter-in-law read the following story, something I wrote a few years ago but had never shown anyone. It’s about three times longer than I usually post on this blog, but in the hope that it might honor Christ and encourage others, I decided to include it. It’s all true.

 He woke that morning, thanking God it was Saturday. His roommate had left with his drinking buddies the night before, so he had their small dorm room to himself for the weekend. Today he had nothing on the horizon except to meet her for lunch.
            He rolled out of bed, showered, and pulled on some old jeans, a T-shirt and his sneakers, the 70’s uniform of the college freshman.
            Breakfast today consisted of a candy bar he bought from the vending machine downstairs in the lobby. Unwrapping it, he headed across campus.
            That first year he didn’t have a car, so he did a lot of walking. Any dates they had were on campus or carefully planned around the city bus routes.
            His dorm was on the extreme northwest end of campus, and her apartment was a couple blocks south and central, right in the middle of campus near the old chapel. He could walk it in his sleep, and usually zoned out as he made the familiar trek across parking lots and behind buildings to short-cut his way to her place. Her kitchen window overlooked the front door, and he knew she would be watching for him.
            You’d have to say they were an unlikely couple. Not that they didn’t have areas of compatibility. Both were bookish and shy. He could be bitingly funny and she laughed at his jokes. Both of them were planning on becoming teachers, though lately he’d been talking about going into the ministry.
            The thing is, though, they were so young. At eighteen he was short and skinny, with long brown hair past his collar. He looked 14. Seven months older, she was slight and pretty, but when her eyes blinked behind her small glasses, you had the sense she was shutting away some kind of inner pain.
            You’d probably have concluded they were together out of mutual neediness. Neither had dated much in high school. He was the resident bookworm and egghead in a small high school where jocks were royalty and smarts were an embarrassment. His dad’s death four years before had set him adrift, and he was still looking for an anchor.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Small Miracle

 A few years ago I was witness to a small miracle, another reminder of God’s kindness.

It happened while the mission I worked for was conducting training for church planters. One of the sessions was about managing your finances, and the trainer was a Christian financial planner who had once been a church planter.

I was seated a couple rows back when he walked to the podium. I could tell something was not quite right because he seemed to be having trouble talking. Then he passed out.

But the “small miracle” part was—he didn’t really fall. Even though he lost consciousness, he didn’t just drop to the ground. He sort of glided. From where I was sitting, it was almost like invisible hands gently lowered him to the floor.

We called 9-1-1, and by the time the paramedics arrived, he was conscious, sitting up, and fully recovered. But the thing I’ll never forget is the way he drifted to the floor, almost in slow motion.

Of course I can’t prove it was a miracle. But it seems a lot like something I read about Jesus recently.

In Luke 4 Christ was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum, and a demon-possessed man began to shout. Jesus rebuked the demon and commanded it to leave the man.

"Be quiet!" Jesus said sternly. "Come out of him!" Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him (Luke 4:35, NIV).

The demon had to come out—Jesus had commanded it. But a demon is a tormentor, and it tried to inflict as much damage as it could as it made its exit. It threw the man down, no doubt hoping to cause injury. A dislocated shoulder, a concussion, a broken wrist—any of these would have been a diabolic bonus as it was forced to vacate. But Luke calmly reports that it “came out without injuring him.”

Once again, I can’t prove that the Savior lowered him to the ground and protected him from injury. But it’s certainly the kind of thing Jesus does.

We won’t know, this side of glory, all the times Christ protected, shielded, defended, or safeguarded us when we would otherwise have been badly hurt or worse. But I bet there are a lot of them.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

All the Treasures In Him

All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ (Colossians 2:3). All the treasures. That's a lot.

The other night I started trying to think of some of the treasures. I read over Ephesians 1-2 and made a list.
  • We are faithful in Christ Jesus – 1:1. (I think this means that we will be faithful because we are united to Christ.)
  • We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ – 1:3.
  • We were chosen in Him before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless – 1:4.
  • We were blessed with His glorious grace in the Beloved (Christ) – 1:6.
  • We have redemption, and forgiveness of all our trespasses, in Him, through His blood – 1:7.
  • The mystery of God's will has been made known to us in Christ – 1:9.
  • We have obtained an inheritance in Him – 1:11.
  • We were sealed with the Holy Spirit in Him – 1:13
  • We were raised up and seated in Christ Jesus – 2:6.
  • The immeasurable riches of God’s kindness will be shown us in Christ – 2:7.
  • We are His workmanship, created for good works, in Christ Jesus – 2:10.
  • Instead of having no hope, we were brought near to God in Christ Jesus – 2:13.
Not only that, but
  • We can consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus - Romans 6:11.
  • In Christ Jesus we have been given the free gift of eternal life - Romans 6:23.
  • There is no condemnation for us in Christ Jesus - Romans 8:1.
  • We are set free from the law of sin and death in Christ Jesus - Romans 8:2.
  • If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation - 2 Corinthians 5:17.
 Can you can think of other treasures in Christ? They're all there.

Monday, June 11, 2012

You're Not in Charge

If you’re a parent, I bet you’ve had this “conversation” with your four-year-old: “Kaylee, you're not in charge, Mommy is in charge. You don’t get to tell Mommy what to do, Mommy tells you what to do.”

The actual conversation takes a lot longer, because your toddler won’t quite get it the first time you tell her. Or the fifth time, either.

Kids, right? When they’re little, they think everything is about them. Good thing that all changes when we get older, huh? (Insert sarcasm here.)

Friday, June 8, 2012

Not Our Kind of People

Early in one of my church plants, I got a strange call from another pastor in town. He told me about a couple who had visited his church the previous Sunday. He explained that they were really not “his kind of people,” and that maybe they would fit better in my new congregation.

To put it bluntly, he didn’t want these undesirables coming back to his church and he was hoping to pawn them off on me.

Even though the call left a bad taste in my mouth, I took down the family’s  contact information. I ended up visiting them in their home, sharing the gospel, and leading them to Christ.

Why was this couple not “his kind of people?” The pastor never came right out and said, but I think he must have pegged them as too poor--the wrong kind of social class. His very wealthy church was composed of many local dairy farm owners. The couple I visited, and led to the Lord, were common laborers who worked on one of the dairies. I guess the pastor felt they wouldn’t fit in.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Why People Hate Christ

I grew up attending a little Methodist church in our farming community, the only church I knew up through high school. I became a Christian at a Baptist church camp the summer of my sophomore year, but I continued to attend our home church.

Even after I was saved, it never occurred to me that some in our congregation might not be.  I just thought everyone else had already heard and believed the gospel.

Unbelievably our pastor asked me--a high school kid--to preach in his absence a couple times. I knew nothing about preaching and almost nothing about the word of God, but I had a book of Harry Ironside’s sermons. I memorized one of them, and it became the first message I ever preached. I thought that’s how all pastors did it. People congratulated me on the sermon, but I just said, “I got it out of this book.”

Things changed when I went away to college. It finally dawned on me that a lot of religious people don’t really know Christ. I began to share the gospel.  I went home for spring break and my pastor invited me to preach again. This time I knew what I had to say. I told people they were sinners and that they needed Christ. I called on them to repent and believe in Him. And I gave an altar call. Out of the 80 people in our congregation, a dozen came forward to the altar.

But that was the last time I was ever invited to preach in my home church. The leaders of the congregation regarded me with suspicion. I was the kid they thought they knew, but who turned out to be a religious fanatic, a weirdo.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The First Forty Years is the Hardest

Today my wife and I celebrate 40 years of marriage.

This blog is about “admiring Christ,” and our marriage gives me many reasons to do so.

  • Jesus brought me a woman who loves Him more than me, and for that reason loves me far better than I will ever deserve.
  • I’ve learned more about Him, and especially about listening to Him, from the wife He gave me than from anyone else in my whole life.
  • He has taken us through heartache and trial over the years, but it seems that the journey has always led us closer to Him and to one another. And so it’s been worth it.
  • He has shown His mercy and grace by keeping us together when our marriage might easily have become a casualty of our own selfishness and brokenness. We might have given up, but He never did.
  • Our life in the ministry often has not been "smart" financially, but Christ has always provided for us.
  • He has used us separately and together to draw other people closer to Him, even though neither of us is worthy of the honor of lifting up His name.
  • Jesus is the Bridegroom who perfectly loves His bride, and I'm not even close to being the husband I should be. But I feel incredibly blessed to have had the chance to love my sweet wife.
  • Our sons are men of honor who follow Him, a legacy we’d be proud to claim. But we know their character and faith is a testament to His faithfulness, not ours.
  • He has given us wonderful daughters-in-law who love Him and our sons.
  • We have five grandchildren, each of whom is a source of joy.
  • I love her more today than I did when we married 40 years ago. And that’s a lot.