Bare Minimum

In Mark 6:33-44,  Jesus asked the disciples to go and see how much bread there was to feed the multitudes.  They came back and replied “Five, and two fishes” (Mark 6:38b, NASB).  It’s interesting that Jesus didn’t ask how many fish there were.  The disciples took the initiative and found that out on their own.  The disciples get a bum rap most of the time…they lacked faith, they denied Jesus, they lived in fear.  But here, they did more than the bare minimum, and God was able to take it and do a miracle with it.  Sadly, we can get so comfortable in our relationship with Jesus and in “being a Christian” that we end up doing the bare minimum for Him.  In essence, we go through the motions of what might be called “the Christian life”.  We read a couple chapters from His word each day, we spend some minutes in prayer, we give our 10%, we try to witness every now and then, and then we get on with life and we believe that it’s OK.  We live as if our “life” is separate from the “Christian life” we live.  Does God deserve more than the bare minimum from us?  Does a lost and dying world where billions haven’t heard the Gospel deserve more than our bare minimum?  Do the orphans, widows, hungry, thirsty, oppressed deserve more than our bare minimum?  He gave His all for us at Calvary, can we give more than just the bare minimum for Him?  If we give more than the bare minimum, God may just be able to do a miracle through it and a lost world might finally hear about Jesus!

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Green Light Christians

False assumptions can be a dangerous thing.  Our world is full of them.  Old is better, new is better, change is good, change is bad, bigger is better, smaller is better, all rich people are proud, all poor people are lazy.  All of these are false assumptions that can lead to actions that aren't particularly helpful.

One of the most unfortunate false assumptions that believers make is the assumption that people don't want to hear the Gospel. If we view people as closed to the Gospel or that they wont want to listen, we will act in accordance with that false assumption and we won't tell others about Jesus.  When you assume someone doesn't want to hear what you have to say, why do you bother saying it?

What would happen if we simply changed our assumption and believed that everyone wanted to hear the good news about Jesus?  I believe that Jesus and Paul were green light people.  They acted as if they believed every person that heard the Good News was going to respond so they told everyone the good news.  That is an act of faith, believing that every time the gospel gets shared, someone will respond.  The Bible says that the Word of God will not return void (Is. 55:11).  Yet we act as if it is chained when it isn't (2 Tim 2:9).

What if we committed ourselves to be "Green Light Christians"?   What if we were to assume everyone wanted to hear about Jesus until they give us a red light that they don't?  Would this change our actions, our behavior in telling others about the Lord?  We can only pray that is does, because we live in a dark world that needs us to push back the darkness with the Light of Life.  Pray that just this week we might live as "Green Light Christians" as see how it impacts those around us.

School is Starting…and Sadly, So is the Violence

I came across this story on AOL today, and it really disturbed and saddened me.

Horrified Students Witness Fatal Shooting

It leaves me with too many questions and not enough answers.  What possesses a teenager to get so angry and violent as to bring a gun to school and shoot a fellow classmate, presumably because they are different?  Where did he get the gun?  Did his parents know he was filled with this much anger?  How must the parents and family of the boy who was killed be feeling about now?  What's to say this can't happen at the schools at which my sons attend?   Did the boy who was killed know Jesus as his Savior?  Does the boys who did the shooting know Jesus?  Will he come to know Him as a result of this?  What are churches doing to get the life changing message of how Jesus can transform a life out to a world filled with violence, pain, grief, loss, hopelessness?  Will there be a team of people at a church in Knoxville equipped to share the message of grace and hope with those impacted by this tragedy, and then, will they make the efforts necessary to get out and actually do it?

We could blame the media, exposure to violence, and many other factors for what happened.  Ultimately, it is a heart issue, and a mind issue.  A heart that is filled with the wrong things, and a mind that was conformed to the world and not tranformed by being renewed.  Ultimately, only Jesus can change this, and we get the privilege to share with the world how they can know the Jesus that can do this!  Awesome!!

A Picture of Heaven

I am sitting here watching the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.  The parade of nations is taking place, and I am reflecting on how this parade is just a small picture of what God had in mind for heaven when it says "And they sang a new song:  You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals; because You were slaughtered, and You redeemed people for God by Your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation.  You made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will reign on the earth (Rev. 5:9-10, HCSV).

It brings to mind several thought.  First, it reminds me of how, despite our differences, we are all very much the same.  God has created us in His image.  Each person is loved dearly by God.  They have hopes, dreams, desires, fears, concerns, and a soul that needs Jesus, despite the differences in language, politics, and geography.  It is on God’s heart to draw the nations to His throne so that they all may worship, and it should be on heart to be a part of God’s plan by being His kingdom people and do whatever is necessary to see all nations come to know the glory of the mighty God we serve.  Are we willing to do what it takes.  It is so much bigger than any church body, any mission organization, and the status quo won’t reach 4 billion people lost and dying without Christ.  The same little programs and ways of doing thing will just get us more of the same, which is too many lost people dying and too many saved people sitting watching the lost people die.

Overwhelmed by the Lostness…

Do you ever have times when you are just utterly overwhelmed by the lostness that surrounds us?  I had one of those moments this evening.  I was at the grocery store and was waiting in line to check out and just stopped to watch the people as they went through their routines at the store…gathering items, waiting at checkout…dozens of people walking past in just a few minutes.  I was very heavy of heart, realizing that most of those people were lost and did not know Jesus, and were bound for an eternity without the Lord unless they heard the Good News about Jesus.

We make many assumptions about the lost that stifle our zeal to share the Gospel.  We often assume they may not be interested, or that they might respond negatively.  Our lips are often shut in fear or complacency or apathy.  How can I do this?  How can we do this?

As I walked to the parking lot, the lyrics of Steve Green’s song "People Need the Lord" flooded my heart.

Everyday they pass me by,
I can see it in their eyes.
Empty people filled with care,
Headed who knows where?

On they go through private pain,
Living fear to fear.
Laughter hides their silent cries,
Only Jesus hears.

People need the Lord, people need the Lord.
At the end of broken dreams, He's the open door.
People need the Lord, people need the Lord.
When will we realize, people need the Lord?

We are called to take His light
To a world where wrong seems right.
What could be too great a cost
For sharing Life with one who's lost?

Through His love our hearts can feel
All the grief they bear.
They must hear the Words of Life
Only we can share.

People need the Lord, people need the Lord
At the end of broken dreams, He's the open door.
People need the Lord, people need the Lord.
When will we realize that we must give our lives,
For peo-ple need the Lord.

People need the Lord.

The problem is not that we get overwhelmed by the lostness, but that we don’t get overwhelmed enough by it.  It is an easily fleeting feeling that too often vanishes like a vapor in the wind.  Oh, that our hearts would be so burdened and overwhelmed by the lostness that it would forever change how we live our lives.

The Church’s E.D. Problem

It seems that each year in my denomination (Southern Baptist) we lament the fact that we remain stagnant in the number of people we baptize during the course of the year.  That number has remained flat lined for the better part of a a decade or more.  We develop new methods of telling the old, old story.

The simple conclusion I’ve come to is that we are suffering from E.D….Evangelism Dysfunction.  We don’t do enough of it, we don’t plan for it, we don’t believe that the message of "Jesus Saves" is important enough for the world to hear.

We come up with all kinds of convenient reasons and excuses for not going as the Great Commission tells us to.  It’s too hot, too cold, too late, too early, too far, too close…the list goes on.

At the heart of it though, I don’t believe the church really has an E.D. problem.  Not telling others about the One who saved our souls is merely a symptom of bigger problems.  Our hearts have grown cold.  They need revival, pure and simple.  When our hearts are warm, we won’t be content to let people spend eternity apart from Jesus.  We’ll say something, ANYTHING, so they have a chance to hear.  More important, they will SEE the life of Jesus flowing out so richly, they will be drawn to Jesus in us.  There is no better witness than the joy of Jesus in us.

Oh, if it were only so easy to take a pill to solve our E.D. problem.  However, the solution is spelled out by God all throughout Scripture.  Pray, repent, sell out to Jesus, get rid of all that distracts and entangles us in this world, don’t compromise, open your mouth, let your light shine before men, strive to know nothing but Christ crucified, die to self.

Are we willing to pay the price to see the world saved?  If we were, most of our churches wouldn’t be stagnant or shrinking in size, and our baptisms, which are supposed to reflect lost souls saved, would be skyrocketing through the roof. 

Caring Enough to Look

I was watching a new show on the USA network last night, "In Plain Sight".  It’s a show whose main character is a US Marshall that works with people that end up in the Witness Protection Program.  The show was ok, but the main character shared a quote that caught my attention.  I’m not sure if the quote was from someone famous, or just written into to the show for her character, but here it is:

"We all live in hiding.  In one way or another each of us conceals pieces of ourselves from the rest of the world.  Some people hide because their lives depend on it.  Others because they don’t like being seen.  And then there are other special cases…the ones who hide because, because, because…they just want somebody to care enough to look for them"

At how many levels and in how many ways is that statement true in the Christian life?  Hiding is one of the first things that Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden.  "Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.  But the LORD God called to the man, "Where are you?"  (Genesis 3:8-9, NIV).  Man’s instinct was to hide, God’s was to go look for them.

So many of the people Jesus encountered were "in hiding".  The woman at the well was hiding by coming to draw water at noon rather than sunset because of the embarrassment of her life.  The woman in Luke 8 that touched the border of Jesus’ garment to be healed from her 12 year flow of blood, cam trembling and falling down before Jesus because she "…saw that she was not hidden…" (Luke 8:40, NKJV).  I even get the sense that Zaccheus in Luke 19 was in hiding.  His status as being rich and a tax collector left him with few friends, and left the crowd complaining that Jesus had "…gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner". (Luke 19:7, NKJV).  I don’t think it is any coincidence that Jesus said at the end of this encounter that "…the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10, NKJV, emphasis mine).

This is the reason that outreach, contact, visitation is so important within the life of any church.  We need fellowship, we need connection.  That is what people are looking for.  People just want someone to care enough to look for them.  Churches die and shrivel up when we stop calling members and guests if we try a couple times and they don’t respond.  People hide for a reason.  They are embarrassed because of their sin.  They are hurt and are waiting for someone to find them so they can talk about it.  They are scared they will be rejected by someone when they try to reach out and connect.  Churches can be so unforgiving sometimes.  In many of them, if someone doesn’t dress the right way, or say the right thing, or act the right way,  they will be shunned, ridiculed, made fun of, talked about behind their backs when they are still in the building.  Or we’ll at least make our disdain silently obvious.  A set of rolling eyeballs or a snarly face or a certain tone of voice speaks volumes.

Consider the lyrics of the song "If We Are the Body" by Casting Crowns;

It’s crowded in worship today
As she slips in
Trying to fade into the faces
The girls’ teasing laughter is carrying farther than they know
Farther than they know

CHORUS
But if we are the Body
Why aren’t His arms reaching
Why aren’t His hands healing
Why aren’t His words teaching
And if we are the Body
Why aren’t His feet going
Why is His love not showing them there is a way
There is a way

A traveler is far away from home
He sheds his coat
And quietly sinks into the back row
The weight of their judgmental glances tells him that his chances
Are better out on the road

CHORUS
But if we are the Body
Why aren’t His arms reaching
Why aren’t His hands healing
Why aren’t His words teaching
And if we are the Body
Why aren’t His feet going
Why is His love not showing them there is a way

Jesus paid much too high a price
For us to pick and choose who should come
And we are the Body of Christ

Chorus (2x)
If we are the body
Why aren’t His arms reaching
Why aren’t His hands healing
Why aren’t His words teaching
And if we are the body
Why aren’t His feet going
Why is His love not showing them there is a way

Jesus is the way

We need to ask, "Do we care enough to look?"  How much time does it really take to make a phone call, or write a card, or send an email, to make a visit?  Imagine how much good we could do in an hour that we’ve wasted doing something that will make no eternal difference.

Are We Willing?

I was touched this week as I read of the passing of Irena Sendler, a Polish Holocoust hero that smuggled more than 2500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw ghetto during WW2.  Polish Holocaust hero dies at age 98.

In the article, it describes the great lengths that she went through, at risk to her own life, having been tortured in a prison camp, all to save precious lives of children she didn’t know so they would have a chance to live eternally.

At its heart, it sounds like the task we are called to as Christians, exerting our time, effort, and energy to give the chance for God to work to save the lives of precious people we may not know so they might have a chance to live.  We spend our energy and time on everything else, ANYTHING else, other than that.

How have we lost sight of the fact that this is THE TASK to which we are called to by Jesus?  We are called to know Him, love Him with all our heart, love our neighbors as ourselves,  and make disciples of all nations.

We never will make disciples of all nations by sitting in our houses and our churches waiting for the lost to come to us and ask about Jesus.  We are called to go.  Everything that troubles us, frustrates us, discourages us, becomes secondary when we realize we are saved by the blood of Jesus and we have the best news in the world to tell others.  We simply just don’t do it.  We may feel like we don’t know how, may feel like we can’t, but if we’ll just trust the Holy Spirit a little, He will guide our words, our thoughts, our actions.  He will give us the boldness to overcome our apprehensions and tell someone that Jesus saves. 

We needn’t wonder why our churches don’t grow, and more importantly why the Kingdom of God doesn’t grow.  It doesn’t grow because we don’t go.  As I have heard others say, we have become the sittin’ saints and the frozen chosen.

My denomination, Southern Baptists, have seen a steady decrease in baptisms for decades.  We have lost our fire, lost our zeal, lost our determination to see lost people go to heaven.  Are we, individually, doing everything we can, to share with others?  Can we find an hour or two in our week that we are currently waisting watching some stupid TV show, to get out and share some good news with a lost and hurting soul?