You’re Not There…YET!

The literary genius Tolstoy was considered average. During his life Van Gogh sold only one painting. Golfer Ben Hogan was a klutz as a kid. Famous Photographer Cindy Sherman failed her first photography class. Walt Disney was fired from the Kansas City Star because he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” After performing at the Hi Hat club, a young Elvis was told that he should go back to Memphis and drive trucks.

I am where I am right now, but I am not where I will be.

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14)

Don’t give up. Don’t get stuck. Keep pressing forward! It took you a lifetime to get to where you are. It’ll take a while to get where you want to be. Never give up.

Attractive Christianity and Questionable Lives

We rightly warn about those people who “tickle itching ears” (2 Timothy 4:3) and water down faith, but we shouldn’t let this warning confuse us about another Biblical teaching.

Paul told Titus that the church should be “showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our savior.” (Titus 2:10 ESV)

That phrase might not be immediately clear. Let me show you some other translations:

  • “in order to bring credit to the teaching of God our Savior in everything” (New English Translation)
  • “in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” (NIV, NLT)

All of the commandments in Titus 2:1-10 have an eye towards how outsiders will perceive them. Young women should live in such a way “that the word of God may not me reviled” (2:5). Young men should be “in all respects” a “model of good works” (2:7), in a way that will put opponents of Christ to shame.

How Christians behave either makes Christianity attractive or unattractive. Our lives cause outsiders to ask questions. “Why is that slave being so kind to his master?” “Why is that mom so patient with her husband and kids?” “Why is that college kid acting so differently than everyone else at the frat party?”

Our lives should make Christianity attractive and cause people to ask big questions. What do they have that I don’t? How can I get it? How is she at peace in such a difficult time? Let’s make Christianity attractive by living questionable lives!

All Hands on Deck

In 2019, the school calendar drives our lives. It determines when we take vacation and travel. In the 1800s, life drove the school calendar. Classes met during the summer and winter, not during the spring and fall, because in an agricultural society, every single person was needed to plant and harvest. Planting a little too early or a little too late could have disastrous results. Every day longer that it took to complete the harvest meant the produce was a little less ripe and the work was a little less profitable. Every worker was needed. Too much delay could cause the loss of the entire crop.

In Matthew 9:36, Jesus looked at the incredible task in front of him. He preached and taught and healed and loved. He felt compassion for the people, because “they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”  Then he spoke to his followers and said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Jesus said that the harvest is huge—but it will be lost without workers.

Let’s obey Jesus and pray that prayer. Let’s ask God to send us workers and helpers and people who can get the job done. God has answered that prayer at Burns time and time again. Let’s pray it some more!

Let’s be the answer to the prayer, too. Let’s pray that God makes us into workers. Let’s look past our excuses and our fears and step out and become harvest workers. People are depending on us!

President Roosevelt

Did you know that Theodore Roosevelt taught Sunday School classes?

One Sunday, one of his students came to class with a black eye. He confessed that he had been fighting—and even worse, on a Sunday! Roosevelt asked the boy what happened and the boy explained that a bigger, older boy had been pinching his sister, so he stood up for her—and ended up with a black eye.

Roosevelt told the boy that he had done well defending her and gave the boy a dollar. The Sunday School superintendent thought this was inappropriate, so they relieved the future president of his Sunday School teaching duties.

I certainly want our kids to learn to solve problems with their words more than their fists. (“A soft answer turns away wrath” Proverbs 15:1)

I want them to be willing to turn the other cheek when they are insulted or abused (“If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39)

But I also want our kids to know Psalm 82:3: “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82:3-4).

It’s not wrong to defend the defenseless. It’s exactly what God himself has done.

What We Need

We don’t really need more technology, better educational systems, or more promising politicians. Do you know what the world really needs? Christians!

We need people who are called to a radical simplicity of lifestyle, to remind the rest of us that we don’t need what we think we need.

We need people committed to celibacy, to tell us that sex is neither a necessity nor a god.

We need people who are lavish in prayer and spiritual disciplines, in order to remind those of us with harder spirits of where our real help comes from.

We need communities of Christians willing to commit themselves to support each other in risky, venturesome ways, to goad the rest of us out of our autonomy.

We need Christians willing to resist the many ways in which the dominant in our world crush the weak.

We need Christians who find a thousand joyful ways to take the screwed-up values of this world and turn them upside-down.

“The greatest need for our time is for the Church to become what it has seldom been: the body of Christ with its face to the world, loving others regardless of religion or culture, pouring itself out in a life of service, offering hope to a frightened world, and presenting itself as a real alternative to the existing arrangement.”

(Excerpts from Van Gelder, Confident Witness, 139, and Brennan Manning, The Signature of Jesus)

The Art of the Small

Humankind loves huge displays and dramatic moments. We are moved by stories of incredible sacrifice or the image of one man staring down a line of tanks. We like the bold!

Because we’re so moved by the “impressive” – sometimes we don’t recognize the power of the little and the individual. Remember that Jesus stood at the temple and saw the rich people with their 6-figure checks, but it was the poor widow and her pennies that earned his praise. “She gave more than all those rich people,” he said (Luke 21:1-4 ERV).

Don’t discount the power of the little!

No drop of rain believes it is to blame for the flood. But without each drop—there would be no flood!

Many husbands promise that they would die for their wives. In reality, they don’t really want us to die for them. They’d appreciate it if we’d do the dishes, though!

Little things add up.

Little things matter.

Never forget that one person can make a difference.

Never forget that one straw can “break the camel’s back.” One pebble in the shoe can cripple the strongest mountain climber.

Don’t sit on the sidelines because you can’t do much. Remember that little is much when God is in it!

Caged Birds and Freedom

Once there was a beautiful bird who spent his life inside a luxurious cage.

One day, another bird from outside flew in, when the bird’s owner had accidentally left the cage opened.

The second bird asked the first, “Why don’t you fly away with me to freedom?” But the caged bird answered, “Each day I receive wonderful food from my master. Each day my home is cleaned. I am safe and secure and happy. And when I see my reflection in the mirror, I sing! I am free!”

“But you are a prisoner!” said the second bird.

“I think not!” said the caged bird. “How could I be a prisoner when I enjoy all of this?”

At that, the second bird flew away to freedom while the caged bird remained happy, singing in his cage, unsuspecting his true condition.

Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:34-36)

Our world is full of birds, fat and happy, unaware of their cages. We come to announce the good news of the liberating king!