A Closer Walk

Mendocino_Coast_Botanical_Gardens4Genesis 5:24

About 23 years ago, I visited a beautiful locale just north of Mendocino, CA:  The Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens.  Let me give you a brief tour.  You begin in a rose garden… a maze of petals and thorns.  From there you take a path further in toward a shaded area with a variety of ferns.  From there you see a beautiful field (no doubt where many weddings have taken place).  If it is spring, you will find a spread of wild flowers soaking up the California sunshine.  Continuing down the path, you will spot an opening ahead arched by trees.  And if you have been listening carefully you won’t be surprised at what you see once you pass through it.  Suddenly and dramatically before you, your senses are assaulted with rugged beauty and glory of the Pacific Ocean.  As you walk along a dirt path you marvel at the large jagged rocks jutting up out of the ocean.    You can then sit in wonder as you witness chilly Arctic waters unleash their fury upon the ragged coastline.

Thirteen years ago I went to this beautiful spot in Mendocino county and the journey I just described to you is burned into my memory.  It is a parable of life for me.  For life has its roses and thorns, ferns and flowers, beautiful waves and a rocky coast.  It is also filled with amazement and surprise.  And like my journey that day, life is made sweeter when you walk with someone you love. In my case, I strolled and climbed and gazed with my bride to be, Janine.  It was a day burned into my memory… because… I did not walk it alone.  I walked with the one that I loved.

mendocino coast botanical gardens3Today’s Scripture is about a man named Enoch.  What do we know about him?  Not much.  Genesis 5 reads:

21 Enoch lived sixty-five years, and became the father of Methuselah. 22 Then Enoch walked with God three hundred years after he became the father of Methuselah, and he had other sons and daughters. 23 So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. 24 Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.

The man that fathered the oldest man that ever lived, Methuselah, actually “outlived” his son.  For while all the other names in chapter 5 end with “…and he died,”  Enoch “was not.”    No embalming was necessary when Enoch left this earth… because there was              no body in the casket at his funeral!

The life of this relatively “unknown” Scriptural hero is recorded here in Scripture… not because he could fight like Joshua, or pray like Daniel or preach like Peter.  Enoch is best known for the way he chose to live his life…  In the 56 words Moses uses to describe the man named Enoch… twice it was said of him that he walked with God.  Maybe there is some hope for us “unknowns.”  Our steps might be unknown to men… but they are noticed by God.

Author Eugene Peterson defines discipleship as “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.”  If that is a true definition:  Enoch modeled it.  And he well understood the words of the prophet Micah:

       He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8, emphasis mine)

A old hymn says:  When we walk with the Lord in the Light of his Word, what a glory He sheds on our way. That sounds lovely.  But how does one go about walking with God? Is there a permission slip? Can I sign up at the Y?  What kind of conditioning do I need for it?

Actually, taking a walk with God begins when we realize that we are on a journey. When we discover that our lives follow not some twisted mess of chance and circumstance, but a path with a beginning (our birth day) and an ending (the second date chiseled into our tombstone), and we see that our days are actually progressing toward something, it is then that we can seek a traveling companion.

One day we will each near the end of our journeys.  Will we on that day have truly completed our journey?”  Will we find our faith to have fully developed?  Will we be able to say, “I walked with God.”

The secret to a memorable life… is sharing the journey with someone memorable.  I’ve never forgotten my date with Janine over two decades ago.  You don’t want to miss a moment of life’s journey either.  Make it memorable.  Walk with God.

And what a glory He will shed on our our way!

Gift Exchange

gift exchangeRomans 1:11-12

“I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong– that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.”

Not too long ago, Saddleback Church in Southern California surveyed over 8,000 of their new members and asked them why they joined.  Their results:

#10 – Special Events and Activities
#9 – Location Near Our Home
#8 – Missions
#7 – Different Styles of Worship
#6 – Small Groups and Discipleship Classes
#5 – Pastoral Care
#4 – Children’s and Youth Ministry
#3 – Service Opportunities
#2 – Worship
#1 – Preaching and Teaching 

Interesting list!  There is a lot for church leaders to take in here.  But can I offer one more to the list.  One that might entice you to a church that doesn’t have half of the others:  a place to minister.  (I realize “service opportunities” might provide this.  But I’m trying to hone in on something more specific.)  Every person that joins a church must discover their God given “ministry.”  The purpose of their personal existence and their reason for being a part of that specific body.

I heard many years ago from a popular Christian leader that churches should have “human scaffolding.”  What he meant by this was that there needed to be some that just came and supported the ministry with their money.  I cannot find a Biblical support for this ministry strategy.  Everyone is called to bring their gifts to the body and to find a ministry in which to employ them.

And yet, what do people look for when they visit a church?  Good teaching, cleanliness, friendliness, something for the kids, etc.

In this introduction of his letter to the Romans, Paul informs them that he would like to visit them.  But he is clear on his intent!  He isn’t going to Rome to see the Forum or the Coliseum.  He comes bearing gifts!

What does Paul mean by this?  I don’t believe that Paul is bringing with him a certain spiritual gift that they had been lacking, such as tongues or another manifestation of the Spirit.  Paul never claims to “institute” a specific gift anywhere… that is the job of the  Holy Spirit.  By “impart,” I believe Paul refers to the benefit that they will receive when he exercises his own spiritual gifts among them.  Why does Paul want to do this?

1)     That you may be established.

The Greek word is sterizo (stay-rid’-zo):  “To make stable, firm and to strengthen or fix.”  This is the word that Jesus used in Luke 16:26.  He told Peter that he would deny him three times that encouraged him by saying:  “…but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again strengthen your brothers.” Luke 16:26

The Christian life is one of stability and strength.  But we need the help of others to get there.  Paul’s goal in life:  Colossians 1:28-29 – “to present every man complete in Christ.  And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.”

We tend to listen to experts on fitness, diet and health (sometimes) as authoritative.  Bur preachers, teachers and evangelists… not so much.  We get defensive.  We get that American pioneer spirit.  “If it is to be… it’s up to me!”

We are forever pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps.  But we need to receive the gifts that God gives us by way of fellow believers.  They are instrumental in our reaching God’s goals for our lives.

Would you have the humility to do that?  Paul did.

2) “…that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine.”

NIV omits “both yours and mine”… maybe because it is repetitive… but Paul repeats it to make his point stronger.  This is a gift exchange… not a one way receiving.  Paul says:  “I learn from you as well as you learn from me.”

We need to be encouraged by the gift others bring to the body.  We shouldn’t get jealous or envious… or critical.  We must mutually encourage each other!

So what are you looking for in a church?  We should see if their doctrine is sound and if they are strong in outreach, etc.  But we should also ask… do they need the gifts that I would bring there if I joined? 

Remember, Jesus told us to pray that the Father would send more laborers into the vineyard… but not once did he request any “human scaffolding.”

Set Your Sail!

sailboatPick up the Phone:  God’s Calling on Your Life

Part 4 of 5

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Acts 17:10-12

10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.  11 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. 12 From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.

Now what did Paul and Silas do next?  They set their sails and when to Macedonia.  This will determine whether or not you will ever discover the will of God for your life.  God more often calls the willing.  If He knows that in calling you to Macedonia you will spend forever reading travel brochures and learn native customs and read articles about how Macedonians think… and never get around to booking passage to the country… He would rather call someone else.

Amazama Ministries

Amazama Ministries

I concur with Katie Davis, the 20 something missionary in Uganda in her book, Kisses from Katie:

“I don’t always know where this life is going I can’t see the end of the road, but here is the great part.  Courage is not about knowing the path.  It is about taking the first step.”

Kathy Lang heard such a calling.

“A veteran surgical nurse for over 25 years, Kathy was looking for a new job. An agency that staffs nurses offered her a position at a prison. Without hesitation, Kathy replied emphatically, “No!”

A few days later in the car, she was listening to a Keith Green CD when her ears were startled by the lyrics: “I was in prison, and I rotted there; I’d prayed that you’d come.”

Over the next ten days she was bombarded with prison references everywhere she turned. On the TV and the radio—prison news. Her devotion book had references to prison. Kathy finally relinquished: “Okay, God, I get it!”

When she arrived home, she called the agency, but the job had been filled. Undaunted, she visited a local youth detention facility to inquire if they needed a nurse, only to learn there was a hiring freeze. For the next four months she kept calling agencies to inquire. And she prayed.  One night, Kathy and her daughter Jessica were driving home from the store. As they passed the prison at exactly 9:00 p.m., she and Jessica prayed, asking the Lord to open the door if it was truly his will for Kathy to work there. She promised to never stop praying for those girls.  Exactly 12 hours later, at precisely 9:00 the next morning, the agency called to offer her that job. …

[As Kathy worked in the clinic,] she had the idea to give every girl a Bible. Through a small grant, Kathy was able to get a few hundred of them for the cost of shipping. …  At the end of each appointment [Kathy had with a female prisoner], she offered the girl a Bible, briefly explaining how to use it. Their responses were mixed between joy and refusal.  Kathy’s heart ached for these girls, most of whom were from difficult backgrounds with little hope for change.

After [Kathy] gave out the first batch of Bibles, her vision was expanded to do more. She contacted various prison chaplains and was able to place more than 6,000 Bibles in four years. …  Kathy’s goal is to see a Bible in the hand of every prisoner. And she has kept her promise to God—she never stops praying for them.  Kathy’s guiding verse for her mission with these troubled youth comes from Isaiah 9:2: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”  (Cindy Huff, “Taking Jesus to Jail,” Today’s Christian, July/August 2008.)

Have you heard a calling from God and then sat on it?  Earlier I said God more frequently calls those that are willing.  But he also calls a few Jonahs.  Maybe you are one of those.  I know where I am suppose to go… but I am unwilling to.

Get those sails up!  Take that first step.  Make that call.  Start praying.  You will be able to do more than you could ever imagine.

You Need a Timothy!

Legend-of-Zelda-Wallpaper-the-legend-of-zelda-5433362-1600-1200Acts 16:1-5

This may be news to you:  Jordan Verner of Ontario, Canada, recently beat the video game The Legend of Zelda.  “Okay.  so what?” you might respond, “He’s not unique.  Lots of people have beaten that game.”  Well, Jordan Verner is blind!  He went on the internet to enlist the help of other gamers to help him.  Four rose up to meet the challenge. It took them two years but they played The Legend of Zelda and recorded every jump, roll, and sound.  Jordan then took this information and entered it into his computer which would then read them aloud as he played. And he was then able to finally beat The Legend of Zelda without ever laying eyes on the screen.

It seems to me that there are a lot of young men and women out there that could use the benefit of someone in life that knows all the jumps, rolls and sounds to look out for.  I believe that there is indeed a Timothy for every Paul in this world.  But often young people are left to figure out life blindly.

Paul had his literal Timothy and poured his life into the young man.

1He came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer, but whose father was a Greek. 2The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. 3Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.

What do we know about Timothy?  He’s green.  He has baggage.  But he’s teachable.  Paul’s willingness to take this young man under his wing would lead him to write two of the books of the New Testament to teach and encourage him.

How close was Paul to Timothy?  Paul writes to the Philippians that Timothy had proved himself, and in the first of two letters written by Paul to Timothy in the NT, Paul calls his protégé:  “My true son in the faith.”  That’s close.  How close are you to someone that needs your guidance and support?

In previous posts I’ve mentioned that we all need mentors like Barnabus, and friends like Silas, but let me now stress that we also need a Timothy! – young men or women that we are mentoring and working to build into their lives.

You might protest: “I’m no Paul!  What do I have that I can share with another?  I need to get my own stuff together before I begin mentoring.”

Not only is it true that you are selling yourself short… and you may also be hampering your own spiritual growth.

In a recent Leadership Journal interview with David Platt (right), he was asked:  “Some leaders feel like they’ve been

Pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, AL

Pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, AL

called by God, yet there are some days when they feel like imposters.  They don’t feel holy enough, faithful enough, gracious enough, strong enough, competent enough.  They feel obligated to talk further than they’ve walked.  Do you ever identify with that?”

He responded:  “Definitely.  With any kind of spiritual leadership, whether it’s pastoring a church or discipling one person, you get to the point where you see  something you need to call people to do.  Then you realize you’re not doing that, certainly not to the degree you’d like to see others do it. … Someone might say, “I’m not disciplined enough in prayer to teach someone else how to pray.”  Well, start teaching them anyway and it’s actually going to cause you to be more disciplined in prayer. … God’s got this thing rigged.  He’s designed disciple-making not just for other’s santification, but for our own sanctification, too.  … I tell my folks here that until we pour into others’ lives we’re going to hit a ceiling in our own life spiritually.  As long as it’s just about us, then our sanctification will not happen as effectively as it would if we are working to lead others to faith in Christ.” (Leadership Journal, Winter 2013, p. 27.)

Taken any jumps, rolls, twists and turns of that spiritual journey of yours?  Then there are those behind you that need your eyes.  Would you kindly step up to the challenge?