The Lighthouse

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I found a lighthouse the other day.  To get to the lighthouse, I had to drive down an unfamiliar road, past a refuse incinerator, two recycling plants, and a scrap metal buyer.  I had to drive until I reached a dead end at a beach park that no one in their right mind would desire if they sought a beach or a park.  I then had to park and walk through the park, past a smashed and burned picnic table and no less than two hypodermic needles.  Reaching the water’s edge, I had to navigate a rough shorebreak, walking carefully between waves crashing against the rocks and the roped off property of a tourist show that’s location defies reason.  After navigating the tricky shoreline, I found it amongst the weeds.  A lighthouse.  It was automated.  No charming lighthouse operator that Pete’s Dragon had taught me to expect.  Just a locked tower with a whirling light on top.

I searched for a better path out of the place, but the Coast Guard has clearly let the surrounding land go.  The weeds are high and thick, with large rocks and old concrete blocking any possible path.  “What are they thinking?”  I wondered.  Do they not realize that people like to see lighthouses?  Do they not realize that they need to make it easier for people to enjoy the lighthouse?  In the past week I have mentioned this lighthouse to two friends who each live near it.  Neither had even heard of it.  What is the Coast Guard thinking?

Their website regarding this lighthouse says exactly what they are thinking, “The light is an active aid to navigation and is not open to the public.”

There it is.  The lighthouse does not exist for tourist to come and gawk at it.  It does not exist for picturesque landscapes or vacation photos.  It exists to navigate ships.  Big ships.  Serious ships.  Ships that without navigation will meet disastrous consequences.

Serious work and comfort seldom go hand in hand. The Coast Guard has chosen to ignore comfort and ease for the tourists and instead focus on navigating ships.  The Church must forego its own comfort for the sake of her mission.  Christian, you must leave your comfort zone and be about the work of the Lord.

You are a lighthouse, not a resort.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.

Matthew 5:14

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This is Jesus; Hear Him!

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Have you ever said the wrong thing?  Several years ago, I was on a mission trip to El Salvador.  We were touring a region of the country visiting with several local churches.  One day, we visited the pastor of a church and saw his home.  We saw the fruit trees, the garden, and a few chickens.  Three chickens to be exact.  We left to tour the town with an invitation to return for dinner.

When we returned, we all sat outside and had a wonderful, Salvadoran meal of chicken, soup, tortillas, and some fruit.  We ate this mean in the pastor’s yard surrounded by the fruit trees and a couple of chickens.  That’s two chickens.

As we ate, one member of our group said, “I didn’t see a grocery store in the village, I wonder where they went to buy this chicken?”  She then began to prod the translators to as our hosts where they went to buy the chicken for the meal.  Everyone sat quietly, stifling smiles.  Our team member was a little embarrassed to learn that the family did not purchase the chicken.  They butchered their own that afternoon.

We have probably all been in that situation.  We blurt something out without thinking, only to be embarrassed when we do.  It happens.  It happened to the apostle Peter quite a bit and in one case, shows us a little about losing our focus.

28 Now it came to pass, about eight days after these sayings, that He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening. 30 And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. (Luke 9:28-31)

Some have said that what happened at that moment was one of the most significant moments in history.  It is as though we have come to the intersection of Heaven and Earth.  There, it was possible to see Jesus in His glory, as we might see Him in Heaven.  Peter would later use this incident as proof that he was not just following a fable, but that Jesus was truly God.  It was here that some realities about who Jesus is became clear.

Seeing Jesus in His glory proved to Peter that Jesus is not just human, but God as well.  He is fully God and fully human.  Further, this moment proved the eternal nature of Jesus.  Jesus often talked of Moses and others from the Old Testament as though He knew them personally.  He claimed that Moses knew of His coming.  Seeing Jesus in His glory at this moment showed that eternal reality.  There He was, speaking with Moses and Elijah in the Heavenly realm.  Finally, as Jesus is speaking with Moses and Elijah about his coming death in Jerusalem, we realize that His death was a part of the plan; a part of the purpose of Christ.  So, it is at this intersection of Heaven and Earth that we see the humanity and deity of Jesus, the fact that He exists eternally, and that His death was a part of His messianic purpose.

Of course, those things might not have been obvious the exact moment Peter saw them.

32 But Peter and those with him were heavy with sleep; and when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him. 33 Then it happened, as they were parting from Him, that Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. (Luke 9:32-33)

Peter, who has been napping, suddenly wakes up and does what Peter does best:  he says the wrong thing.  He commits a faux pas; a big one.  He suggests worship for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.  This is a mistake that is made throughout history.  He wants to worship what seems good, but that is idolatry.

34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were fearful as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” 36 When the voice had ceased, Jesus was found alone. But they kept quiet, and told no one in those days any of the things they had seen. (Luke 9:34-36)

Now, Peter, James, and John stand in the presence of God and get one instruction:  Jesus is the Son: Hear Him!

Make no mistake, what is being said here is that Jesus is set apart from all others.  He is not a creation of the father as you and I are, but rather He is the Son.  He is unique.  There is nothing like Him.  He is not just a teacher or a good example.  He is not just a prophet.  He is the Son of God and as such, we are to follow Him.

Now let us look at this from Peter’s perspective.  Consider ourselves in his place.  Luke seems to make and excuse for him.  He was asleep.  He had just awoke (note: he was awake, so he really is without excuse) and saw something he did not understand.  We have all been there.  We wake up from deep sleep and have to take a moment to know what is going on.

As I read this, I think this explains a lot of our problems as modern Christians.  We are lazy in our walk and spend most of our time napping.  Think of it this way: We taken in much more than we give out.  Just listen to how we talk about worship:  “I didn’t get anything out of that!” “I don’t like that song, I do like that song” “I don’t like that preacher.”  We make everything about ourselves and what we get.  We gorge ourselves spiritually.

Think back to Thanksgiving.  You ate and ate and ate.  You took in and took in until what?  You fell into a turkey coma.  That is what happens to us as Christians.  We take in and take in.   We stuff ourselves and fall into spiritual comas.  Then something happens.  The Spirit speaks.  God moves and suddenly we wake up and miss the point.  Instead we desire the event and we miss the point completely.

Sure, we can go into some advice about staying awake, but the most important thing to note here is the words of the Father:  “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Luke 9:35)  It is as though God is telling us to ignore everything else.  Here is Jesus, follow Him!  Nothing else is good enough.  Nothing is close enough.  Jesus is it!  Listen to Him!

Ultimately, Christian, you must focus on Christ alone.  Several years ago, a popular movement swept through Christianity called “WWJD:  What would Jesus do?”  It was an interesting question and a very weak movement.  It was weak because people became more interested in saying “What would Jesus do” than they did in actually following Jesus.  At some point, we must realize that Jesus is it and follow Him!

In Surveying the New Testament, I have learned that the largest collection of the words of Jesus is found in the book of Matthew.  Matthew wrote five sections of discourse; teachings of Jesus.  I want to challenge you this week to set aside some time to read those five sections.  They are:  Matthew 5-7, Matthew 10, Matthew 13, Matthew 18-20, and Matthew 24-25.  Jesus is the Son of God.  Let us hear Him!

On Repo Men and Evangelists

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My presence could clear a trailer park. I would park the truck a block away. I would cover up the store logo on my shirt and hat (a corporate no-no, but those guys in the corporate office never did my job). I would try to look casual, but my face was recognizable. As I walked up the drive into the long row of single-wides, someone would make eye contact and sprint for their door. It was over. In less than a minute, the phone lines were hot all through the park. I was there. Don’t answer your door.

In reality, I only wanted one. One trailer had a big screen TV and a computer that the family was never going to pay for. Everyone else paid eventually, and I generally left them alone. Yet, their trailer park camaraderie enlisted them in the fight against me.

So, we launched a sneak attack. 8am marks the legal time for collections to begin. We were in the park by 7:45, walking carefully along the fenceline in the back. We walked through wet grass and weeds, avoiding the roads and the kids on their bikes and their moms who liked to smoke and gossip on their porches first thing on a Saturday. We waited.

8am, on the dot, and I sprint for the back door. Tony sprints for the front. Tony is nervous. This isn’t his route or his turf. He handled the projects, I handled the trailer parks. It was color-coded. Tony had reason to be nervous. I took the back door which worked. I caught Mrs. Big Screen stepping out to avoid Tony who was knocking on the front. She stepped back inside quickly and hoped she was somehow invisible that morning. Tony was on the front. We both pounded loud and yelled our standard greeting as loud as we could. The goal was to make a scene. And a scene was made indeed.

Minutes later, as we are still pounding and yelling, Tony is surrounded by about 30 people. Neighbors, all agitated that a black man is there. I race around to the front and relieve the pressure by asking Tony to go get the truck. He gladly leaves. I continue knocking while the crowd offers their views on my job. One man yells, “They don’t even got power, let ‘em keep their TV!” I’d love to address the logic of his argument, but it doesn’t have anything to do with my task that morning. My boss had made it clear, “If you get one thing done today, get that TV.”

I knock and knock (pound really, the door almost comes open). Tony brings the truck. The family finally surrenders. She storms out humiliated and furious. She carries a towel and shampoo in order to shower at the neighbor. They really don’t have power, or gas, or water. He waves us in then sits on his floor and cries. I sat down next to him on roach infested carpet and tried to remember who I was. I offered the best advice I could. I tried to point him in some good directions. Tony points to a flier on the table from one of the local churches. “That’s a good place to be,” he offers.

I hated being a repo man. Excuse me, Account Manager. It isn’t me. I have lots of interesting stories like this one. Some are sad, some are funny, some are scary. They are all true.

I don’t want to be a repo man. I’d love for my presence to be known. I’d love to wear the badge of my Lord in such a way that when I step into a community, they knew who I’m there for. I don’t want surprise attacks. I don’t want commotion. I don’t want to wage a war on dignity. Evangelists can do that too, just like repo men. I don’t want to. Instead, I want the larger, stronger, quieter life. I want the life where Christ is known by my actions, and heard in my words, and longed for because of the evidence of my own longing. That’s what I want. That’s where I’m headed.

Check out my adventure towards this larger, stronger, quieter life here.

Cowardly Christians and Brave Birds

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This afternoon, I mowed my yard. I love to mow my yard. I inherited my father’s cub cadet mower, and its pretty fun to zoom around my yard with that 24 horse power mower. Today, as I mowed I noticed a Robin that seemed unafraid of the mower. I would get within a couple of feet from this bird before it flew away, but it would return very quickly. It stayed with me the entire time I was out there.

It took me a while to realize why he stayed so close. Eventually, I got it. You see, my yard has been water logged lately. I haven’t been able to mow because it was so wet. So today, as I mowed the tall grass across soft ground, I was stirring up a lot of earthworms. The little bird knew this. He braved the mower because that’s where the harvest was!

Christians can learn a lot from my feathered friend. It seems we would rather stay away from the places and things in this world that frighten us or that may even be dangerous. We have plenty of places we won’t go and people we won’t talk to. The tragic reality is, those places are where the harvest is.

I pray I can become as brave as that little bird.

Running Thoughts: Me and My Shadow

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I’m a runner. Ok, so that’s not entirely true. I’m trying to be a runner. I’m in the beginning stages. I’ve made a public claim that I will run a 5k by next Thanksgiving and my family has responded by giving me shoes and the nike+ipod kit for Christmas. I’m taking it slow. I’m using the Couch to 5K plan and I think it will be a great work out for me.

In fact, I really enjoy it. Today, I was jogging along at a good clip and really feeling good. The crisp winter air felt clean and uplifting in my lungs. The sunshine and empty track was beautiful and peaceful. There, in my new Nike shoes, my ipod, and my sweatsuit, I felt like a runner. I could imagine myself as anyone of those other runners; the kind that run marathons and races. Then I glanced at my shadow.

In my shadow I saw a fat, middle aged man jogging in a way that only fat, middle aged men can jog. Head down, hands close to his body, trudging along with slow little steps. There was a great difference between how I might imagine myself and how I probably actually look to the world around me.

That got me thinking (thinking theologically is better than thinking about the fact that my calves hurt and I was getting really short of breath). I wondered, how different is my own imagining of my spiritual life and reality? I’m guessing that its far uglier than I imagine. I’m sure that when I see myself fighting the good fight and running the good race strong and proud, I’m probably trudging along in a way that would be comical if it weren’t so pathetic.

Then I wondered, how does God see me? Surely God can see how pathetic I am better than anyone. I am sure that no matter how many faults others can find in me, God could find a million more. So what do I look like to Him? The ugliness is a shuddering thought, except for one thing. By the grace of God, when He sees me, He sees Christ. The righteousness of Christ imputed to me means that God sees me as better than I ever imagined myself to be. And that’s a thought that makes me want to keep running.

Motive Makes the Difference

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Return, O LORD, deliver me! Oh, save me for Your mercies’ sake! For in death there is no remembrance of You; In the grave who will give You thanks? (Psalms 6:4, 5, NKJV).

Sometimes the motive of an action makes all the difference. In Desiring God, John Piper gives the example of the husband who arrives home on his anniversary with two-dozen roses. His wife is thrilled until the husband says, “Think nothing of it, it’s my duty as a husband.” It is the heart of our actions that we ought to be concerned about, for there is the difference between love and duty; between devotion and bargaining.

To some extent, I’m afraid that modern evangelism has ignored this in order to achieve a desired result. What is in a person’s heart is not as important as whether or not they walk an aisle, say a prayer, get baptized, etc. We’ve watered down talk of a changing of a heart to simply repeating a prayer and really “meaning it.”

Much of the focus of evangelism has been Heaven and Hell. Certainly, Heaven and Hell are realities of the Gospel, but what is lost when we convince a person to fear Hell and desire Heaven? Perhaps they strike a bargain or attempt to work out a deal, but is there a changing of the heart? Is there a desire for God that was once destroyed by sin?

In the sixth Psalm, David prays from weakness and brokenness for salvation. It might be easy to point out that in verses 4-5, David explains the urgency of such a prayer by showing that death is final. However, I think there is something more. The motive of David’s urgency is not his own condition in death, but whether or not God is remembered and praised. Motives make all the difference.

What will become of evangelism when the goal is no longer heaven, but the love and worship of the Lord?

Who Do You Trust?

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LORD, how they have increased who trouble me! Many are they who rise up against me. Many are they who say of me, “There is no help for him in God.” Selah But You, O LORD, are a shield for me, My glory and the One who lifts up my head. I cried to the LORD with my voice, And He heard me from His holy hill. Selah I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the LORD sustained me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people Who have set themselves against me all around. Arise, O LORD; Save me, O my God! For You have struck all my enemies on the cheekbone; You have broken the teeth of the ungodly. Salvation belongs to the LORD. Your blessing is upon Your people. Selah (Psalms 3:1-8, NKJV).

Enemies come in many forms. They may be various difficulties that we have in our life. They may be things we internalize; preventing ourselves from our goals. They may be real live enemies set against us. Either way, one tactic seems common: the accusation that there is no help for you in the Lord. Our enemies (be it ourselves or otherwise) always want to tell us that there is no point in asking God for help. We are prone to think that God helps those who help themselves and He certainly won’t help us. But Salvation belongs to the LORD! It is not ours, it is not our enemies, it is His and His alone.

I don’t think your enemy wants you to know that! The bottom line today is this: will I trust my enemy who is set against me, or the Lord who alone has the power of Salvation?