Strict//EN" ""> EAGLES' REST: December 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Unanticipated Consequences

I'm not a "name it it and claim it", or "word of faith" sort of guy. I just love to be surprised when God shows up and does something we didn't expect, and I am forced to admit that many times when He does that, spectacularly, even in response to prayer, it's a bit of a surprise.

See .. the secret to this thing, to doing Kingdom work down here, lies not in what we do. It's what God does .. things that only He can do .. after we've done what we can do. We don't "bully" God into anything. That can't be done, but God is faithful to manifest Himself in the lives of His servants, sometimes doing things above and beyond what we expect. Or has even entered into our minds.

That's a pillow up there in the picture .. one that was made by Peg's sister Janet. She sent it to Peg for Christmas, and is the only Christmas present that I recall bringing tears to Peg's eyes.

The pillow itself shows a picture that I took, most likely in the summer of 1964, and it shows Peg and her whole family on the patio of our first home in Carmel, Indiana. It might have been my birthday, or perhaps a Memorial Day or the 4th of July, but that's about when it was. Left to right are Helen, Anna Belle, Mildred, Peg's Mom and (step) Dad Mary & George, then Peg and her youngest sister Janet. Anna Belle, Mildred and Peg are hers, and Helen & Janet are theirs (Peg's father having died shortly before she was born).

I took the picture so I could have the picture, but had a couple of unintentional consequences. I'm so glad that I kept all those old slides and that I scanned this one into the computer and shared it with the family!

Janet printed the picture onto cloth and sewed it into the pillow.

The first unanticipated result is that the snapshot sort of became the definitive picture of the family into which I married. I am unaware of any other picture showing all 7 of them together. So I am really, REALLY glad I took the picture.

The other unanticipated consequence is the pillow itself. Little did I know when I sent that to Janet, that one result would be a treasure for my bride.

NOW. Isn't God a lot like that? We do what we do in His name, (in His name, authority or character) and we can see, usually, something happen right then. A hungry person has a meal, a family has a little brighter Christmas, or someone who's discouraged feels a little better about themselves. But what we can't see is the unanticipated consequences which may follow.

What God may do with what we do in His name.

Unless you can think of some limitations on God .. which I can't .. then there's no end to what He can do. And if that pillow has meaning for families which will exceed the length of the Christmas season, how much more can the hand of God accomplish, following what we do for Him, through all eternity?

So listen up, Sunday School teachers, nursery workers, preachers, witnesses, prayer warriors, all those involved in advancing the Kingdom. Take heart. You're doing a lot more than you're doing.

Just like Janet did more than just sew a pillow.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Use of Subterfuges

A little over 40 years ago, I was part of a group of 12 men from the Indianapolis area, involved in Spiritual training. Its name was "Shamgar", and it seems to be still going on. We met in a church camp about 85 miles from our homes, and spent one weekend a month there, for four consecutive months.

To say the time spent there was rewarding might just be the biggest understatement I have ever made. But one of the most interesting and impactful things wasn't really part of the training. It was a happy accident involving airlines and luggage.

Doug Snider came up from Texas each month to lead the training. The third month, we were scheduled to go out into the community and witness to folks, and were to use a "Spiritual Opinion Poll", for which Doug had a form prepared. But it was in the luggage that didn't make it to Indy, and we couldn't go back and get it as there wasn't time.

I'll never forget what Doug said...

"I guess God is teaching us something. That we are not to use any subterfuges to witness for Him. We're just going to go out as businessmen from Indianapolis, sharing our faith with people."

And that is precisely what we told people.

Surprise! Surprise! People were quite willing to talk to us about our faith. From professing Christians to unbelievers to Jehovah's Witnesses, they welcomed us into their homes. There were teachers, missionaries, plumbers, insurance salesmen, students, quite a cross section in our group ... and the welcoming attitude of folks surprised everybody there.

Ed Stetzer, in his book LOST AND FOUND.. did a lot of poll-taking. For a legitimate purpose. But I have yet to see where the local church, say in the F.A.I.T.H. program, is taking a legitimate poll while out on a visit. The aim is not to compile results to be used in guiding some future action; no, the aim is to share the gospel with unbelievers. While that's certainly a worthy goal, I doubt that misrepresentation in even the most seemingly innocuous form should be a part of that.

Claiming we're taking a "survey" or a "poll" is, to me, dishonest. And that is surely not worthy of someone out there representing the King of Kings. It borders on being ashamed of the gospel .. ashamed of simply telling people we're out and about, sharing it.

It's just not for me.

Could it be that things like that have led to the "shallowness" of the decisions that have been made over the last few decades, in the SBC? Might it account for the fact that most folks go through the "conversion" thing slick as can be, and then disappear?

I think it plays a big part in it.

The real joy we've found in sharing with servers in restaurants comes partly .. IMO .. from the fact that there's no subterfuge, no misleading, no reluctance to reveal we are believers and want to pray for someone. Other than one single case of seeming indifference, every single person has appreciated that we prayed for them.

And it also reinforces what Ed Stetzer's book revealed .. that folks are generally interested in Spiritual things, even though not interested in church.

And it crosses age barriers, too, as witnessed by the young lady who wrote on our check: "Thank you for bringing some light to my day. have a blessed day!"

Which brings me back to my original question: Is there something we're afraid of? Or worse yet, something we're ashamed of?

May it never be, for me and my house.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

First Be A Friend

I've long been against any sort of subterfuge, salesmanship, or any other inducement to "use" on folks to get them to listen to the gospel, make a decision, or commit to something. I firmly believe that it's the Holy Spirit's job .. expressly so .. to convict people of their sin, and I also believe we bite off a ton of trouble when we try to do that ourselves.

I know of one church that, in a block party sort of setting, offered a particular food treat to folks, if they would first sit through a gospel presentation. Followed by the usual challenge to make a decision. I find that distasteful.

I know of another pastor who works hard on building friendships with people in his community, before confronting anyone with the gospel. He lets God arrange those situations, and I see a lot of positive (and somewhat remarkable) results from what he's been doing.

Picture a mundane, worldly illustration. First case: Someone calls at your door, and says he's noticed the smoke from your chimney, and suggests you need a new furnace. He has all the promises of quietness, increased efficiency, and comfort that only his product can bring. And he has all the challenging questions (known in the sales business as closing techniques) to "help" you make a positive decision.

As opposed to that, let's say your house has been less comfortable than it has been, spotty heating, noisy, fuel bills increasing, etc. One of your best friends is a furnace installer so you ask him how to solve your problem. Your trusted friend offers his advice.

Which do you prefer? Which one do you think will lead to years of satisfaction with the result, without those nagging questions about whether we made the right choice?

Consider this: using the evangelism programs and approaches that SBC'ers have, in the past, has built a church in which somewhere between 60% and 80% of the "deciders" in past years, are now unhappy with their decisions. Judging by the folks we can't find, that is. Church members who joined on our terms and placed themselves under the authority of the local body, and have simply disappeared.

That sounds more like the record of an aluminum siding salesman, than that of a body which has the solution to the biggest problem man ever will have.

This thought came washing over me after lunch, early this afternoon. We'd stopped at a well-known chain eatery .. sit-down variety .. and ordered our food. We asked our server if we could pray for him when we blessed our food; he said "nah .. everything's fine...".

After he'd brought our food, he came back over to refill the glasses and I asked him if he was a career server, or had he done something else before the economy went South. He explained he'd always been in the restaurant business, and named several restaurants in which he'd been in management.

Next trip, we talked some more, and he said his wife had worked on several college degrees, then had kids, got her degrees, and had a really good job now. And that he had been thinking about updating his resume and maybe would look into getting back into management (rather than working two jobs to keep up his income).

Kicker is, a server with whom we prayed last time we were there, came over and said hi, and we talked a bit about how things were going with her. We had a nice chat, and it was really heartwarming to see evidence that the simple act of praying for her .. and her arthritis .. a few weeks ago had meant something real to her. I'm hoping maybe she and the server we talked to today, will compare notes one of these days.

But we will be back for lunch there, sometime soon.

We're not exposed to a lot of "outside" lost folks any more. Most of the folks we see week after week, are church folks. So there's a temptation to smack every stranger with the gospel, but you know, I don't recall that ever doing anything in my Christian life. The last 48 years or so.

But among friends?

I have a feeling I'm going to be doing a little more friend-making in the coming days. It sure has been fun, so far.

This all isn't just feelings in the back of the neck, as it were. From my recollection of reviewing Ed Stetzer's book "LOST AND FOUND ... The Younger Unchurched and the Churches That Are Reaching Them", the folks they interviewed were quite amenable to hearing about and discussing Spiritual matters, but not "with a church". And they also desired friendships with folks of the older generation, but not with "the church". Sounds like that plays the same song as what I've been feeling.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

No Room

Our Pastor, last Sunday, made reference to the fact that, when Mary and Joseph got to Bethlehem, there was no room at the inn. That, of course, relegated them to sleeping .. and giving birth .. in the stable. And, I'd heard that story for 50 years or so, always in the light of how tragic it was, and how indicative of a world that generally gives Jesus no room in their hearts.

Well, I can't argue about that last part, but I have suddenly come to see that whole stable deal as quite expectable, and not unlike what might have happened today.

I ran into my Pastor in the hall at church last night and asked why that would have been considered a tragedy. He correctly pointed out that it was the King of the world about to be born, and there was no room for him. I then asked whether it might be an expectable thing that, showing up unannounced at an inn, in a city that would have been busy with folks coming in for the big event (the enrollment .. not the birth), one might find all the rooms taken.

I don't think if the average pastor were to drop in at a Holiday Inn, without reservation, that he'd view it as any sort of plot against Christianity, were they out of rooms for the night.

And that got me to thinking ... who did God announce the event to, anyway? To my knowledge, only two groups ... the Magi (or wise men), and the Shepherds. And what was their reaction? They dropped everything and came to see. And quite some distance, in the case of the Magi.

So I am forced to conclude that God wanted those two little groups to know of the miraculous birth, but conversely, God did not want the rest of the world to know that Mary was giving birth to God in the flesh, that evening!

That's not a very helpful thought for a Calvinist who's trying to fit into a Baptist culture! God being select in revelation?

Personally, I think the innkeeper that evening found favor with God. He had an inn full of folks and he was honorable enough not to toss anyone out into the street to make room for Mary & Joseph. Sure, he probably would have, had he known, but how could he have known Who it was that was about to be born?

He couldn't. Unless God revealed it, and God didn't do that.

On purpose.

In fact, the innkeeper did give them a place to stay. A stable, but he really didn't have to do that! He could have just sent them packing....

There's a perfect dichotomy set up in the story of Jesus birth, life and death. Birth in the most humble circumstances imaginable, death in the most humiliating way known, and a life completely invested in others.

Followed by a seat at the right hand of God.

How completely fitting for the Servant King, and all the more reason for me to shun any "honor" man can bestow on earth.

So .. I say "Well done, Innkeeper, well done". I hope you didn't beat yourself up over the whole deal, if you ever came to know what happened that night in your stable. You had a big role in the Greatest Play ever.