Have you ever seen the rip-offs of the inspirational wall-hangings? Here’s one that I ran across recently on fear. If you can’t read it, it says, “Until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore, you will not know the terror of being forever lost at sea!
I went for a jog last night. I went almost three miles in about 40 minutes, not exactly all-star material, but I worked up a good sweat, and for most of you reading this — just imagine carrying a 50 pound backpack for your 3 mile jog. So I was coming home, less than half a block away and Delma was dropping Josh off after Xstream. So I yelled out, “Hey little man, whatcha doing?” He just kept walking, didn’t even respond. I yelled out again, “Hey, can’t you even say hi?” He just kept walking — a little faster. I got up to the door and it was locked. Not only would my son, not say hi to me, he locked me out. So I started ringing the doorbell, knocking on the door. Finally he came and opened the door — a sheepish grin on his face. When I asked him why he didn’t say hi and why he locked the door, he said, “Dad I thought you were some strange guy, when you started yelling at me, I got scared. I couldn’t get in the house quick enough. My legs were shaking.”
My first thought was, “C-mon, why in the world would you be scared of that?” But then I started thinking back to my days on the farm. Dad would ask me to go check on the pigs that were giving birth — seems like it was always late at night. When I would come back from the barn to the house. I would start walking normal — but by the time I got to the house, I was running as fast as I could, not daring to look back, certain that some night-time monster was right on my heels. I was afraid and I didn’t even have a stranger yelling at me.
Fear does funny things to us. That’s why we struggle a little bit with verses in the Bible that call us to fear God. In fact one writer says that the “fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.” So we like to tone down the word — because we also know that God is our father. So we say that when it talks about fear in the Bible, it doesn’t really mean scared, it means respect or awe. I think it means respect, awe and so scared that my knees are knocking!
But when we see God for all that He is — awesome, holy, loving, fearsome, father, Jesus — then I think that fear of God gives me courage for life. I heard someone put it this way once — “If you fear God, you will fear nothing else. But if you don’t fear God you will be afraid of everything else.”
What or whom do you fear?
It’s one of my favorite stories because it grabs my heart no matter how many times I hear it or tell it. Picture a South African woman standing in an emotionally charged courtroom. She is listening to white police officers acknowledge the atrocities they had perpetrated in the name of apartheid. Listen in as Officer Van deBroek acknowledges his his responsibilty in the death of her son. He shot her 18-yr-old son at point-blank range. Your stomach turns as you listen to him tell how he and others partied while they burned his body, turning it over the fire until it was reduced to ashes.
The tears start stream down your face as you learn that eight years later Van deBroek and others arrived to seize her husband. A few [hours] later, shortly after midnight, Van deBroek came to fetch the woman. He took her to a woodpile where her husband lay bound. She was forced to watch as they poured gasoline over his body and ignited the flames that consumed his life.
Your tears are turning to anger. You simply cannot understand how somebody could do something like that to a person. Then you hear this small woman relate that the last words she heard her husband say were the words, “Forgive them.”
Now, van deBroek stands before her awaiting judgment. South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission asks her what she wants to happen. “I want three things,” she says calmly. You are waiting for her to exact retribution. “I want Mr. van de Broek to take me to the place where they burned my husband’s body. I would like to gather up the dust and give him a decent burial.” You are still waiting for justice. She goes on, “Secondly, Mr. van deBroek took all my family away from me,” — you are eager to hear her bitter judgement — “and I still have a lot of love to give. Twice a month, I would like for
him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so I can be a mother to him.”
Your mouth drops open and almost as quickly your eyes start to leak. “Third, I’d like Mr. van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God and me. I would like someone to lead me to..(him), so I can embrace him and he can know my forgiveness is real.”
As the elderly woman was led across the courtroom, Mr. Van deBroek fainted. Someone began singing
“Amazing Grace.” Gradually everyone joined in, as a good heart transformed a courtroom into sacred space.
What is the capacity of our hearts? What is our capacity to forgive? What is our capacity to choose joy in tragic circumstances? What is our capacity to love even those who heart us? I guess when Jesus comes to live in our hearts, he expands our capacity.
Looks can be deceiving. My grandfather John Nold got polio when he was young. It left him crippled. Every memory I have of Big Grandpa — yep that’s right, my dad’s folks were Big Grandma and Big Grandpa and my mom’s folks were Little Grandma and Little Grandpa — every memory of Big Grandpa included a cane and a shoe with a leg brace. He didn’t get around too fast or too well, but he could use that cane with deadly force! I felt it around my leg, arm and even neck on more than one occasion!
But one thing he did even better than catch runaway grandkids with a cane, he caught my imagination with his stories. I remember going out to his trailer before school. I would sit with him and watch for the bus — I was about six or seven — and he would tell me stories. Stories about the road, following the harvest, riding the rails, and campfire meals with hobos. As a young boy there was not much better than Grandpa’s stories.
Through those stories my Grandpa left me a love for the journey and a passion for adventure. I dreamed for hours about Huck Fin and his river raft. My favorite show was and still is Star Trek and “it’s on going mission.” This wanderlust has not always confined itself to the safer roads of my imagination. While in college, I hitchhiked home once. I spent most of the time in a light rain on the back of a Harley Davidson with a biker who stopped about every 10 miles for a beer…now that was a trip…it increased my prayer life exponentially.
As I grew older and a little more perceptive, I came to realize my grandpa’s life was not quite so glamorous as my childhood imagination painted it. Life on the road was really the journey of an alcoholic abandoning his family, leaving home for long periods of time — a combination of running from, and in some ways desperately seeking home. Gilbert Bilzekian writes, “The silent churning at the core of our being is the tormenting need to know and be known, to understand and be understood,…to belong unconditionally and forever without the fear of loss, betrayal or rejection.”
What we are seeking is love unbounded. Love without limits. We want to know that we are not outside the boundaries of somebodies heart. Can someone out there love me without limits? But in fact, it’s even more than that. It’s good to know that I can be real with you and not face rejection. But it’s not enough, I want to be loved in a way that changes me. Aren’t we all seeking a love that makes us whole?
Near the end of his life, my grandpa found that love. He opened up his arms to Jesus. His marriage was restored and his story was redeemed. He found the home that he was seeking. How about you? Where are you questing for life? Where is your home? That place where you are loved without limits? This week we are starting a new teaching series at Calvary… LIfe Without Walls. Hope you join us online or in person. There is a life that God designed for us that is an overflowing kind of life…it’s a life without walls.
I came home yesterday to find a CNN twitter update waiting for me. Fred Winters had been killed. I didn’t know Fred Winters, but there were enough similarities between the two of us that it made me stop for a moment to ponder life. Fred Winters was…
- – in his forties
- – married with children
- – the lead pastor at a baptist church of about 1500 people
- – at the church for over 15 years.
- – preaching at the church’s 8:00am Traditional Worship Gathering.
The main difference is that last week, Fred Winters worked on the last sermon he will ever give. It was on a favorite topic of his, the joy of giving. Last Sunday, while he was preaching during the first service at First Baptist Church of Maryville, IL, a man walked up the center aisle and shot him. The first bullet hit his Bible, there would be three more shots, one of them straight to the heart. The congregation was caught off guard, in fact many people thought that this was just part of a sermon illustration (Pastor Winters would often use unusual illustrations and dramas during worship). It was all over in seconds. Pastor Winters was pronounced dead at the local hospital minutes later.
Most of the news briefs I saw on tv yesterday focused on “church security,” but the reality is that none of us are secure from death. I think what hit me most is simply, the last sermon part. If last weekend would’ve been my last sermon. It would’ve been preached to possibly the smallest audience I’ve preached to in a number of years — my first spring break weekend to preach in a long time! It would’ve included a children’s sermon — for maybe the first time in 15 years? It would’ve been on Psalm 34 with a focus on the goodness of God. Not a bad way to go out, but I’m not sure if it’s what I would’ve chosen if I knew it was my last sermon.
It’s good — sometimes — to ask ourselves “last” questions. Like if this was my last day to live, how would I invest my time? Or if this was my last year with my kids at home, what would I focus on? If I had one last conversation with a person what would we talk about?
Paul challenges us in the book of Ephesians to redeem the time, to make the most of every opportunity. Fred Winters is a reminder of that challenge. Pray for his wife and his two daughters. Pray for his church. Hard stuff, but God can redeem hard stuff.
At a church in Minnesota, the children’s sunday school was going through a curriculum focused on prayer. During one stretch the children learned that prayer is conversation with God, which means that God also speaks to us and we should be able to hear Him. Shouldn’t we? I mean think about teaching children the reality of something we so often fail to value.
Anyway, a number of weeks later, a mother shared this story about her six year old son. After one of the classes he had come home quite thoughtful, somewhat concerned. He finally asked her, “Mom what does God’s voice sound like. Our teachers said that God talks to us, but I’ve never heard Him, what does God sound like?”
Not an easy ?…but she did her best. Over the next few days, her son’s concern intensified, this little six year old, so badly wanted to hear God speak, but could not. The mother was ready to go ask the Children’s Pastor for advice, when one day, her son came running into the kitchen yelling, “Mom it finally happened. I heard it. I heard it.” “Heard what dear?” “I heard God’s voice.” “Oh,” she responded, “and what did it sound like. He paused, then looked up at his mother and said, “Hmmm, It sounded like a whisper past my heart and out my ears.”
Wouldn’t take much to miss a voice like that would it? Listen maybe the first word we need to hear Jesus saying is, “Would you just slow down? In your pursuit of all you want, you are missing the one thing your heart craves and your life lacks. Would you just slow down. Don’t worry about all you have to do. I’ll let you know if the world is going to fall apart without you. But meanwhile I just want to be with you. I miss being with you. Be still, it’s okay. Take time to listen to me. I will tell you wonderful things that you never imagined.”
Listen. Maybe God is whispering to you right now.
One day a man named Moses — He really lived, not just a character in a Dreamworks animated movie (Prince of Egypt) — walked past a bush. Most likely he had passed by the same bush a hundred times before. Just a bush, everyone in his neighborhood had a bush. Some people had three or four. But this moment was different. This time the bush was on fire with the presence of God. It was on fire, but it wasn’t burning up. Moses looked at the bush and he said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” Moses exercised a little divine curiosity. He stopped to look. He paid attention, and he heard the voice of God.
Do you see how everything hinged upon his willingness to exercise his curiosity? Everything hinged upon his willingness to interrupt his schedule and pay attention to the presence of God. God didn’t force him to stop, no burning wall in front of him. It wasn’t an obligation. He had people to see, sheep to herd. He could have looked away. He could have glanced once in his rear-view mirror, hoping he might have another chance someday when things were a little less hectic.
At Calvary we have been talking about the WORD. I think one of the difficulties we have in hearing God is that we have no divine curiosity and everything else is jockeying for priority in our lives. God’s Word is just another one of those things we need to fit in, check it off the list. We think it’s a no-brainer, if I had been there that day I would have stopped to check out the bush. But would we have stopped? Or is it the case that in the busy pace of our lives, in the midst of a secular society, many of us have become so preoccupied, so busy, that we might run right past a burning a bush and not even stop long enough to find out that it’s holy ground?
He could have missed an encounter with God. He could have missed his calling. He could have missed the adventure of a lifetime. He could have missed his purpose for living. But He didn’t. He stopped. He listened. He responded.
For John Sutter, it started as a normal January morning in California. He was a prosperous rancher, owner of a 50,000 acre spread. He had no idea how much his life would change when one of his employees, John Marshall, walked into the room with the news that gold had been discovered at the construction site of a sawmill.
The year was 1848 and Marshall and Sutter agreed to become partners in mining the gold, but soon the news leaked out. Sutter’s property was besieged by thousands of people – trappers, farmers, sailors, lawyers, school teachers and preachers – from nearly every corner of the country. All of them had one mission, one vision, one passion. They wanted to strike it rich. Within a year, the “49ers” flooded by the 1000s into California and the gold rush had started.
Gold rush – what is your rush? What would cause that sort of excitement, passion, and a willingness to rush away from all you had in the hopes of rushing toward something of greater value? Gold rush. It’s interesting, some very wise people have compared the word of God to gold. Proverbs 19:8-10 says that the words of God are right, making the heart rejoice, more to be desired are they than gold. Psalm 119:72 says that the words that come from God’s mouth are better than thousands of gold coins.
So I’ve been pondering the power of words. Thinking back, some words were like gold. I’ve held onto them for decades. Some words were like poison. unfortunately I held onto some of those for decades as well. Those were the words that laid bare the lie that “sticks and stone will break my bones but “just” words will never hurt me.” I wonder how many sticks and stones words are said in our homes verses gold words?
There is power in words, power for good, power for harm. Words formed the wave that President Obama rode to the White House — not just his words, but also words like “I have a dream.” There is power in words. If God speaks, wouldn’t you expect that his words would hold the greatest power of all? Wouldn’t you expect that his words would be of the greatest value?
If we believe He speaks, why do so many of us, spend a seemingly small amount of time — at least in proportion to their value — listening to His Word? Maybe we think His Word is just words? I’m looking forward to the next few weeks at Calvary…pondering His Word.
I’ve been thinking about this since our trip to Myanmar; what gets us down. While we were in Myanmar we met Mary. Mary is the main mom at Agape Orphanage. In fact she started Agape Orphanage with her husband. Not long after they started the orphanage — about 10 years ago — he died from malaria. He got sick on Sunday, was in the hospital by Monday night and Tuesday morning he died. That was in June. In July her 11 month old son got pneumonia and within a month he had died. I’m not saying she didn’t struggle or that she doesn’t grieve. In fact even today when she talks about it there are tears. But she didn’t quit following God’s call to serve kids. In fact, in many ways she is the heart and soul of Agape Orphanage.
Then today somebody sent me a youtube link with a message from a man name Nick. He has no… well I’ll let him tell you his story. Just watch the video below…
So what gets you down? This isn’t one of those just-look-around-you-because-someone-is-worse-off-than-you kind of challenges. I’m not a big believer in alleviating my pain by finding someone in worse pain. What I am is a big believer in the virtue of perseverance. What I am is a big believer in the freedom we have to choose our attitudes. What I am — above all — is a big believer in God’s ability to work in and through our circumstances to bring about gold in our lives. See I think that one marker of the current and future capacity of our hearts is how much it takes to get us to quit.
So what gets you down?
…and it’s breaking my heart. Remember the story in Matthew 25. Jesus is talking and he shares that story of the good guys (sheep) and the bad guys (goats). The good guys are the once who give Jesus water when he is thirsty and food when he is hungry. The good guys are the ones who give Jesus clothes when he is naked and a home when he is homeless. The bag guys ignore Jesus in need. The good guys and the bad guys both say, Jesus when did we see you in need. Jesus responds, Whenever you care for the least of these my brothers, you do it to me.
In Myanmar, a country that is over 80% Buddhist, a country where 90% of the people live on less than a dollar a day, everywhere I go I see Jesus… and it’s breaking my heart.
Last Sunday, after church, Lynn and I prayed for a woman who runs an orphanage in a very remote area of Myanmar, the Chin State. She has an orphanage in the mountains – forty one children. Because they are so remote, they have no sponsors, so they come to Agape Orphanage when they need help. It is the poor helping the very poor. The Nargis Cyclone hit them hard, so they have gone into debt buying food. Nobody will give them anymore credit. So she has not been able to buy food for a few months. Her children walk the fields looking for corn and rice that has been dropped behind in the harvest. For the last month, her children have been eating one time every three days. Joseph – the Agape Orphanage Director – asked Lynn and I to pray for her and her children. We prayed and the tears streamed down her face.
As we were praying, the thoughts going through my head were – I’m praying to Jesus who is eating once every three days in the mountains of the Chin State.
We gave her $700 — the $500 we saved from not paying extra for our baggage and $200 we took for personal expenses. It will help for a couple of months.
After that prayer, as we drove to another mission, all I could think about was 41 hungry children and I kept asking Jesus, “Did I do enough?” Tears in my eyes — I can honestly say that I have never had such a strong desire to be rich. If Jesus really is to be found in the “least of these,” if you ever go to Myanmar you will see Jesus everywhere you go…and it might break your heart.