Friday, July 31, 2009

Their Grammar May Not Be Real Good......

...but, doggone it, their heart's sure in the right place!



Southern Illinois was described by a friend of long ago, Bud Downey, as the place where "even the rabbits had to pack their lunch....". Well, I'd never traveled through Southern Illinois, before yesterday. And it wasn't all that barren, except they do seem to be having troubles keeping animals around. Apparently.

That, or the ASPCA has been raising a ruckus.

See .. we stopped at this perfectly nice little rest stop, not far from the Kentucky line. And they had this sign outside that tipped me off about their apparent animal problems.

SO ... listen up, kiddies......




Don't go barbecuing no more neighborhood domesticated animals, ok?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I Looked At The Corn, And I Got To Thinking.....

Somebody's been here.

We'd been visiting with Peg's sister Anna Belle, in her home in Kirklin, Indiana, for the day. Peg's other sister, Millie, was there from Ohio, too. Nice, restful day, appropriate in light of our imminent departure tomorrow morning. But despite the fact that I was only driving back to the hotel ... most of an hour's drive ... something struck me as we drove through the cornfields of Clinton County, Indiana.

It was glaringly obvious that somebody'd been there. Sure, there was a road. But aside from that, there was all this corn growing alongside the road.

Now, I suppose that corn grew someplace, wild, untended by man, some time or other. I also suppose that's how man found it. But this was different. If you look at the picture, you'll see that there are rows .... evidences of some sort of plan. And it's planted all in a neat rectangle, on one side of the road.

There was a different crop on the other side of the road.

I'm guessing there are different types of corn out there, but this all seemed to be the same variety. But, while they all looked the same, and were close in height, density, etc, all the stalks were different.

Sort of little vegetable individualists.

I guessed they'd all been planted about the same time. Someone had to pick the time that was done, as well as the variety to be planted.

I can only imagine the power that created this corn which, when planted as a tiny kernel of seed corn, can produce such an intricate and useful product, with such consistent beauty. I further imagine that great minds were involved, since the day man first noticed it growing and figured out some use for it. I mean, there are these signs indicating what hybrid variety is planted in these fields.

And, of course, someone had to pick the best place to plant the stuff, which they apparently did quite well, as it all looked really good.

Knowing the area, I'd also hazard that someone did a lot of work on the land beforehand, and even a lot after the planting ... judging by the quality of what I saw.

Then we got into Lebanon, and I saw people.

People.

Like the ones in the Garden of Eden. Like the ones who figured out uses for this marvelous product. Like the ones who developed this variety. And like the ones who had tended the ground and planted the corn.

And I got to thinking.

Somebody's been here...

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Best $10.15............


....sandwich you'll ever eat.

We're in Indianapolis, as I write this, having just spent the day celebrating Peg's youngest sister's 60th Birthday. (Pardon me a moment ... I just realized what I wrote ... Peg's youngest sister ... 60 years old ... she was ten when we got married .... UGH....).

OK. I'm better now.

Anyway, when we left the fam late this afternoon, Peg suggested we might stop for a bite of dinner on the way to the hotel, and mentioned Shapiro's Delicatessen on the South side of Indianapolis. I'd mentioned eating there while we were here this week and we were in the neighborhood, so we stopped in.

You're looking at half the sandwich, the other half hiding behind the pickles. Corned beef on Jewish rye, with their special mustard. And a couple slices of Swiss.

Oh yes ... the coconut cream pie was pretty good too. Real egg-white meringue.

While we're in town ... a trip we decided on about two weeks ago ... yes, it IS nice being retired ... I'm going to visit one of my old mentors, Gene Bertolet. He's also retired, but still acts as part-time graphic artist for the MFMI (Men For Missions International) publications, including their ACTION Magazine.

We'll be going to church tomorrow morning with John, my nephew, at Lakeview Assembly of God. And, come Monday, we'll visit with Dr. Sheri Klouda and her husband Pinky, in Upland.

I noticed on the way to the hotel this evening, that our trip's cumulative gas mileage in the Prius is up to 49.2.

Hmm .... maybe we've saved enough for another $10.15 sandwich.......

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Tale Worth Telling The Rest Of

Let me say this up front .. perhaps belatedly: I am not in any way an example of anything. I wouldn't dare boast about anything except Jesus. I'm just an ordinary guy, a college flunk-out, whom God seems to have selected to do some stuff. ALL the glory is His, all the gain, all the praise. But there does seem to be an "air" in the churches with which I'm familiar, that it's the "special folks" that God uses in His Kingdom work. That is just not so.

From teaching Ken Hemphill's "Serving God .. Discovering and Using Your Spiritual Gifts" course many times, and also from personal experience, I know that God uses ordinary folks like you and me. I hope that message comes through loud and clear, and that more folks will have a realizable goal of being used by the One Who spoke the universe into existence.


The "outline" .. the verses and the story .. were my favorites from then on, I suppose because they flowed so nicely. But also because those verses were the ones which, when committed to memory, had "gelled", in my mind, the fact that I really was saved. At that point, I was free to pursue what God wanted me to do, rather than worrying about my own salvation.

If you've ever studied Henry Blackaby's study course Experiencing God, you probably remember that, in his view, any time God reveals to you the work He's doing all around you, it's an invitation to get involved. To join Him in His work. Hold onto that thought .. we'll stumble across it again, in a minute.

In 1991, FBC Pelham sent about 40 of us to Nassau, the Bahamas, for a mission trip. We had a dozen or so men putting a ceiling in a church that needed some help, and we also put on Backyard Bible Clubs in two locations. That's where I was, overseeing the club in Zion Yamacraw Church.

The week was really super ... many children came to know Jesus, and our youth (who also formed the Youth Choir) sang in several churches in the evenings. In fact, at Zion Yamacraw, after I'd gotten the youth started each morning, I sat down outside with several of the Bahamian ladies who'd brought their children there. Not having an agenda for adults, I just asked if they'd like to do a little Bible Study and they wanted to; in the ensuing days of study, 6 ladies came to know Jesus, too!

It was quite a week. Lots of people were saved, and we were all on Cloud Nine by Saturday morning, when we went to the airport to come home.

But God wasn't done yet. Sam Neugent, our Mission Leader, asked me to stay with the luggage while the baggage handlers came out to load it up curbside, and while Sam took the rest of the folks in to get them cleared to leave the country. I did that, and after they'd tagged up all the bags and taken them inside, I went inside, checked in, and headed to the gate.

As I was passing an empty gate, I heard someone say "...but love is love .. right?" .. followed by "No .. the love does not count if it is not the love from God". Well, that caught my interest, so I stopped, backed up two steps and looked over into the corner, where two men were talking.

One was a man in a baggage handler's uniform, and one was in a suit (he appeared to be witnessing to the other). Even though I am, by nature, shy, I walked over to where they were sitting and asked "Do you mind if I listen in?". They both said they didn't mind, so I sat down.

After about three minutes of men engaging in what I call "verbal fencing", I asked if I might say something. They said to go ahead, so my comment to the baggage handler was "You know this is all a bunch of baloney, right?" He said no, and what did I mean. My response was "The only thing that really matters is, if you were to die right now, where would you spend eternity?"

He said he didn't know, and I said if HE didn't, then I DID. And would he like to know? He said yes to that, so I launched right into the Shamgar outline, as I wrote about last time.

I simply went through it item by item, and when I'd finished, I asked him if there was any reason he wouldn't want to be a Christian. He asked two questions, which I answered, and then he said yes, he would like to become a Christian. I then led a time of prayer, in which He asked God to save him, for Jesus' sake.

I didn't want to leave him with nothing, so I told him and his friend in the suit to wait just a minute and I'd be right back. Then I ran down to the gate where the rest of our team was, grabbed a tract from one of the kids, and ran back down to the other gate. I gave the guy the tract, told him that's what he'd just done, and asked his friend to be in charge of getting him some help, seeing that he got into bible study and church, etc. We all shook hands, and I went back down to our gate, by which time they'd boarded the plane, and I walked on and we left.

Years later, I studied Blackaby's course, and it hit me: we'd had 40 people walk by those two guys, but it wasn't until I walked by that God revealed what was happening. And I suppose that, at my age, and with the story I'd learned 20 years before still hidden away in my mind, God must have decided I was the guy that needed to talk to the baggage handler and his friend.

I'm not much into "canned presentations", but they do have an undeniable value. If you know a plan .. a program .. a presentation .. then you'll know that you know. The fear of not knowing enough, of being unsure of your salvation, usually goes away when you're thus prepared. And if you commit the scripture to heart, then you can adapt what you say to the listener. Start where they are. Respond to them.

I found Doug Snyder in the mid-1990's, and we corresponded some. I think he was glad to know of one of the original Shamgar guys that was still "in the faith". He should know that he affected the lives of a lot of people, particularly since I told him so.

He died in 1998, but his ministry lives on through others.

Thanks, Doug.


P.S: If anyone wants to know what the "outline" looks like on paper, here's what I usually ended up with, when I was finished.....

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Tale Worth Telling Some More Of

When we'd learned the verses Doug had assigned us, he then grabbed a blackboard and showed us how to weave them together into a conversational presentation of the gospel.

Our approach was always to engage someone in conversation about things in general. Where we knocked on a door, we'd tell them we were businessmen, out in the community, sharing our faith, and we'd ask if we could visit with them a few minutes. We'd always ask where they worked, did they have kids; we'd just talk about their lives and ours, their town, etc. Then we'd ask them an important question:

"Are you also interested in Spiritual things?"

Almost everyone is; we never had someone tell us they weren't, back then. And Ed Stetzer's book Lost and Found pretty much confirms that folks, even unchurched folks, do still want to talk about Spiritual matters.

The next step was to ask them what, in their opinion, a real Christian was. After they'd answered .. an answer for which we always thanked them .. we'd ask what they'd tell a little kid who said "How can I become a Christian?" Then we'd ask them if they'd mind if we shared what we saw as the Bible answers to those questions. And the following is pretty much they way we'd tell the story (with maybe a few embellishments I've stumbled onto in the past 35+ years).

Note, of course, if we got solid believer's answers, we'd rejoice and fellowship, and then go on to another house. We'd also ask them if they knew any neighbors who needed a witness.

We'd start by saying that God walked and talked with man, in the Garden of Eden. But something happened, there, that drove a wedge between God and man, and left man on one cliff, as it were, and God on another. That something was sin, and it left a great chasm between them.

SO .. what does man have going for himself? Three things, right off the bat, per the Bible:
  • SIN ... Romans 3:23: "...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God"
  • DEATH ... Romans 6:23: "..For the wages of sin is death..."
  • JUDGMENT ...Hebrews 9:27: "..Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.."

WELL. Man wouldn't have to be a genius to figure something is wrong! So, man does a lot of things to try to "get right" with God. In fact, as I've heard, there's no tribe of men, anywhere, that doesn't have a "God image", and that doesn't try to do something to "get right" with that God.

At this point, we'd have drawn a little picture with man on one side, and God on the other, and this great sin-generated chasm between. Then we'd solicit input from the folks we were talking to, as to what some of the "bridges" (for lack of a better word) there are that man might try to build, to get over to God's side of the chasm. Following the Golden Rule, going to church, praying, loving people, feeding the hungry .. all good works in themselves, but not a "bridge" long enough to reach God.

We'd then turn to nature .. and talk about how things are. Dirt can do nothing to become grass, but grass sends down roots and takes part of the dirt into itself. Likewise, grass cannot become cow, but the cow eats the grass, and makes it part of itself.

The same goes for the cow and man. Cows are powerless to become people, but man eats the cow, and makes part of the cow, part of the man.

The same thought applies to man and God. Man cannot build a bridge long enough to reach to God, so we must ask what God has done to bridge the gap to man.

Simple.: "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8. NIV)

Jesus. He's the only thing God did, to give us access to Him. Jesus put it this way:

"I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life." (John 5:24, NIV)

Wow .. that takes care of the judgment to come, and the death that comes as a result of sin. Plus, when you add 1 John 1:9...

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."...

.. you take care of the sin problem, and that pretty well squares us.

So, what do you have to do about it? Simple. You simply have to receive the gift He has provided for you, and Revelation 3:20 says how..

"... I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me."

Sure, I know that was spoken to a particular church, but it might apply to us; that is, Jesus might really save us if we just ask Him, in faith. Nonetheless, the real message there, to me, is that He wants to save us, and we must receive Him. And I might add that I differ from this a bit, in that I go to Romans 10:9 and let them read what they must believe and confess to be saved. And I also explain that the word "believe" in John 5:24 is from the word "pisteuo", which means to have faith in, to entrust.

If they're wanting that, then we pray. And I'll usually throw in a few other verses, such as Peter's instructions in Acts to repent and be baptized. And we can discuss what repentance really means.

I like this presentation .. which shares a lot in common with an old Billy Graham tract .. as it sets forth man's problem, God's solution, and man's requirements, pretty clearly. And I take some guidance from the fact that I learned this 39 years ago, and the outline and the verses still simply roll out when I need them. I figure God must want me to remember them.

I'll give you a pretty good example of how that played out, in practice, in the Nassau Airport. But I'll save that for next time. I might even show a picture of the very confusing diagram I draw out when I have paper, a blackboard, or something else on which to write.....

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Tale Worth Telling

Telling? Yes. Reading? I'll leave that to you.

As I've mentioned before, in early 1970, I took some spiritual training under the leadership of Doug Snider, from Tyler, Texas. Doug was an acquaintance of Charlie Spicer, one of my mentors in the 60's and 70's, and when Doug agreed to come up and put on the training .. amounting to a Friday-night-to-Sunday-afternoon, once a month for 4 months, Charlie asked me if I'd like to join the group (of 12) taking the courses.

Incidentally, you can read about the Shamgar training of long ago, here.

I said yes, principally because Charlie invited me, and also because I was still trying to attain some real level of assurance about my own salvation. In that respect, Shamgar was certainly a success for me.

The purpose of Shamgar was to train men to use whatever they had in their hand .. a notebook, cocktail napkin, scrap of paper, whatever, to share Jesus. Not to be dependent on having a Bible, a tract, or any other of the trappings we believers usually carry around just in case. Shamgar .. and you can read for yourself about him, in Judges 3:31 .. used a pointed stick to slay some Philistines, and God says he, too, delivered Israel.

Doug said we should do at least as much, and that's what his program was designed to accomplish.

The four weekend retreats were held at a campground in Mitchell, Indiana, about 75 miles away from us. The first thing we were instructed to do .. each weekend .. was to clean the place up. Police the area, Doug said. Then, the last thing we did before leaving on Sunday, was to police the area again. The thought was, that if we always did that in our lives, we'd leave everywhere better than we found it.

There were some aspects of discipline involved, but the main thrust was to learn a plan and method of leading someone to saving faith in Jesus. I'd mentioned that in a prior post, and someone asked if I might share the approach we were taught, and this post is the result. I'll write it as I tell it, I guess. We'll see.

A lot of our approach was kind of "cast in stone" by God, in our fourth session. We were scheduled to go into the community, witnessing, and he'd printed up some "spiritual surveys" for us to use. We were to tell people we were conducting a survey and would they mind if we asked them a few questions. Unfortunately (in truth .. it was fortunately), Doug's luggage didn't show up. Doug told us God has spoken on the ride to the campground .. from Indianapolis .. that there were to be no "subterfuges" ... no fibbing. We were not there to conduct a survey, we were there to share our faith with them. And, where God led, share how others might be saved, too.

That episode gave me an instant distaste for "Spiritual Opinion Polls", which has lasted to this day.

The first two weekends, we were practicing going over the scripture verses we'd been memorizing. On the third weekend, Doug taught us how to put them together in a rational presentation of man's problem, God's solution, and how man could take some action to solve his problem. We were told to share the "plan" with four saved friends during the final month of training .. I suppose with saved friends as we'd not yet been shown how to deal with someone who wanted to be saved. Most of us there were Methodist church members, and that wasn't something we'd ever been taught. So, when I got home, I asked one friend .. a Charles Chips distributor .. if I might have lunch and share the deal with him. He invited me to share it with his Sunday School class, which I did.

It turned out to be a class at the Plainfield Boy's Prison .. a facility for kids who'd have been in the penitentiary if they'd been old enough.

I hadn't intended to tell this story now, but I guess I will. I'd brought along a marking pen and a piece of posterboard to draw all this stuff out on, since it was a class. I went ahead with the presentation, anyway, but as I got to the end, I realized I had no clue what to DO with anyone who responded favorably. I didn't even know how to ask them if they wanted to be saved.

Well .. I'd read The Cross and the Switchblade shortly before this, and I remembered what David Wilkerson had done in his first theater rally, so I mimicked that as best I could. With fear and trembling, and I suspect, the hope that nobody would want to get saved.

There, among their inmate peers, six young men did. They repented in tears.

I went back a day later to deliver some pocket bibles to the kids, as they'd asked if they could get one. I had to go through the chaplain, and in that process, I got the biggest shock I'd ever gotten as a young believer.

The chaplain said he guessed it was ok to give them the little Gideon Bible, but that he wished "You guys would stop coming out here and doing this". He stated emphatically that we kept offering them hope, and everybody knew there wasn't any hope for them, in Jesus or anywhere else.

Like I said: shocked. I figured I'd done something wrong, particularly since Doug had said to share the story with believers, and here I'd shared with a bunch of (mostly) lost prison inmates. But that got set right when Doug asked us, in our final session, to share what we'd experienced sharing with our friends. I somewhat guiltily said what I had done, and that six kids had gotten saved; guiltily since I didn't know whether I'd handled the results acceptably.

You'd have thought I'd announced that all the guys had won the lottery! The rejoicing is burned into my memory, as is God's faithfulness to guide us when we get in over our head.

Nothing is over God's head.

This has gotten long, so I'll heed my carpal tunnel, stop typing, and describe "the plan" I learned, next time. You can probably tell why I like it.

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Most Beautiful Non-Plan of Salvation

I stumbled across this picture by happy accident today (as I write this), and it brought back a ton of memories about a pretty special incident some years ago. Memories worth writing about.

I was saved when I was 7 or 8 or 9, when I simply believed that you went to heaven, when you died, if you believed in Jesus. It was a remarkable moment which is etched in my memory as if it were yesterday.

It was years later that I got into trouble with my faith. See .. I ignored it, pretty much, afterwards. Sure, we went to church occasionally, not nearly every Easter and Christmas, and 5 or 6 years later, when we moved to Indianapolis, we never went at all.

After another 8 years, after we'd gotten married and had a couple kids, a neighbor invited us to Sunday School. We went, and we've been at it ever since.

After a few years at that church, we moved across town to a sister church, where I got involved in a Bible study. And that's the place God really got my attention ... led me to examine my own salvation and be sure of it ... put me in touch with some folks who turned into mentors for me ... and got me in touch with the fact that we're supposed to share our faith.

We started with the "4 Spiritual Laws", actually going into the community and passing some of the tracts out, to folks at the mall, etc. Something about it didn't set real well with me, I suppose because I wasn't comfortable with a "programmed religion". But I eventually got into a discipleship group called "Shamgar", trained by a gent named Doug Snider from Tyler, Texas.

Many of the leanings, in my own life, that I have today, date back to the days in 1969 and 1970 when we worked through many things at Shamgar. And we learned a "plan of salvation" that was a bit different from the 4 Spiritual Laws, and made a lot more sense to me. Incidentally, that "format" is what I use to this very day, with the same scriptures, that I learned in those meetings with the other guys in Shamgar.

Then, of course, we've used many different tracts in my years as a Baptist, albeit the times I've had the privilege of introducing folks to the Savior, I haven't used a tract at all.

All of which brings me to F.A.I.T.H., and the picture above. We'd gone on a FAITH visit to a home, ostensibly so we could present the "plan" to the wife of the guy we went to visit, for assurance of salvation. Or so we thought.

After someone had shared a "Sunday School Testimony", and someone else had offered a "Salvation Testimony", the leader of the group asked me to share the FAITH outline (which I never really thought was "natural"). As I started, I noticed Kori, the young lady in the picture, was crying softly across the room. So I asked if I might speak to her, if she'd like to hear the tale I was about to tell, and she said yes. So, she moved to the couch alongside me and I began the outline.

Her baby was crying, so I asked our leader (a lady, by the way) if she could hold the baby; I then began talking to Kori. And after a few sentences of the outline, she was crying even harder.
I asked her what was wrong, and she said she wanted to be saved.

Well ... when she said that, out went the "canned" presentation. I simply asked her why she wanted to be saved, and she answered that she was a sinner, and she knew what that meant. I then asked her how she wanted to be saved, and she said she wanted Jesus to forgive her.

Next, I asked her why Jesus? She said she knew He was the only Savior. Then, I asked what was necessary for her to do, and she told me about repentance and forgiveness. I said that sounded pretty good to me, and, why didn't she just tell that to God?

I told her we'd pray and all I said was "God, Kori has something she want to tell you ..."; I elbowed her and said "Go ahead .. He's listening". And she poured out her heart to Him in one of the most beautiful and moving prayers I've ever heard.

By the time she was done, we were ALL boo-hooing! It was as moving an experience as I've ever witnessed.

When we'd regained some semblance of composure, I had her read some scripture out of my Bible, assuring her of her salvation.

I've seen her a few times since ... she moved away not too long after our encounter ... and what a fine, radiant young Christian lady she is.

Her smile, as genuine as they come, says it all. And, between the outpouring of her heart, and the outpouring of the Spirit, I learned a lot that evening.

A whole lot.

Thanks, God. And thanks, Kori.

Friday, July 03, 2009

How Beautiful .... Indeed.

Have a good look at the photo; you might even want to click on it and see it full-sized. It has to be one of the most beautiful sights in "nature" I've ever seen.

The setting is the North Coast of Jamaica, in the Parish of St. Mary. The town of Port Maria is at the extreme right of the photo in the bay you can see; that was the closest town to the house we'd rented for 8 days in 2003. The first morning we were there, I rose to this sunrise and I captured the picture you see above. But the beauty you see isn't the most beautiful part of the days we spent there.

Peg's birthday is March 20th, and our anniversary is one week before that, March 13th (we were married on Friday the 13th, thankyouverymuch...). When Peg first came down with breast cancer, we decided we'd do something special to celebrate her birthday and our anniversary each year, and the year before we'd bypassed motels and had rented a house in Kingston, Jamaica, and had a great time. So, this year, we found a house on the North coast, and that's where we were when I snapped this picture.

Incidentally, the houses were both huge, and cost us less than we'd paid for motels in the previous years.

This year, we'd invited two couples from church to spend the week with us. We told them if they'd get there, we already had the place rented so they could stay free. Our friends Neal and Debbie Blackwelder had been with us two years before, and this week, Larry and Cynthia Smith joined us and the Blackwelders. Our week there was as good a demonstration of how the body of Christ is supposed to get along, as I can imagine.

It was a beautiful week in more ways than one. We had the view you see above, from the front windows of the house in Port Maria. It was perhaps 200 yards down the road from Firefly, the home of playwright Noel Coward; he had described the scenery above as the most beautiful place on earth.

I cannot disagree.

The picture above was taken about 6 a.m., and accurately shows just how beautiful the sunrises were, there. Sunsets were just as beautiful, too, as red, orange, and yellow clouds reflected the fiery sunsets behind us.

We could easily see why Noel Coward said what he did.

But that wasn't the most beautiful part. That honor was reserved for the beauty of the Body of Christ, as it lived there among us. We traveled about a little, including the 75 miles to Kingston, to Red Hills Baptist Church on Sunday morning. And among our travels, we went to the Pizza Hut in New Kingston, the Chelsea Jerk Centre in the Chelsea area of Kingston, the Ruins Restaurant in Ocho Rios, and other places which escape my memory. We also went to the little Jamaican Supermarket in Port Maria, and ate "Patties" at a little grille in town.

When the check came, or the clerks rang up the bills, it was almost as if nobody wanted anyone else to pay. That brought a couple verses, from Acts 2 (NIV), to mind:

"All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need."

And if that's a little taste of heaven, then heaven's the sweeter for it.

How beautiful?

Beautiful indeed.