Saturday, September 20, 2014

Thank You, Ruth Class

I was asked to speak to our Senior Adult group this past Thursday.  Rather than telling a bunch of aging jokes I decided to take a more serious tack.  I don't know why really.  Maybe it's because this is a nostalgic year for me.  I had my 40th class reunion in May.  God called me to ministry 40 years ago this past June.  And 40 years ago this fall, I left home for college and the rest of my life.  Anyway, I decided to talk to our group of Senior Adults about some of the ways God has used seniors in my ministry. 

My thoughts immediately raced to the Ruth Class at First Baptist Church, Branson, Missouri back in the mid-70s.  The Ruth Class was a senior adult women’s Sunday School class in the church.  I don’t know why, but that class took an interest in me from the moment I declared God had called me to ministry.  I didn’t grow up in the church (I had been Presbyterian).  None of them knew me very well at all.  But they sort of adopted me.  One of the ladies gave me my first commentary: Matthew Henry’s One-Volume Commentary on the Whole Bible.  I still have it and cherish it—not so much for the commentary but for the sentiment it holds for me.  That gift was a message that said, “You are going to love and preach the Bible.  This will help you do it better.” 

Oh, and another thing about that class: when I went off to the University of Arkansas in August of 1974, that class of ladies (most of whom were on a small fixed income) took up a little love offering for me every month.  And that offering said, “We believe in you.  We believe God is going to use your life.  And we want to be part of that.”  Those ladies also told me that they believed I would write books someday.  Well, I’ve never written a book.  But I told them that if and when I ever did, I’d dedicate it to those ladies for their faith and confidence in God’s work in my life.  Funny thing is that one of our church secretaries, Tammy Dean, is helping me get my Dr. Seussical Christmas poem I did last year turned into a book.  Sadly, I don’t think it will allow for a dedication page, but if it did I can tell you what I’d write on that page: “To the 1970s Ruth Sunday School Class of First Baptist Church, Branson, Missouri.  They may have been old, but they were strong enough to lift me up and launch me into my ministry.” 

I imagine they’re long dead now.  Most of them lived long enough to see their faith in me become a least a little sight.  I suspect they had far higher expectations for me than I have achieved—I never became the next Billy Graham or the great author some predicted I would become—but I pray that when they consider the balance of my work, they would not be too disappointed.  I’m going to look them up when I get to heaven, and I hope we can have a little reunion.  “Well,” I’ll say, as I look down and move a little dirt around with my foot, “I never wrote great books and nobody but you ever mistook me for Billy Graham.  I’m sorry if I let you down.”  And I suspect their leader, Peg Holbrook, would look down her glasses at me, furrow her brow, and say, “Young man (I will probably be perpetually young to that class), did you do what you believed God led you to do?”  And I’ll look her in the eye and say, “I’m sure I could have done more, but I think I did most of what God led me to do.”  And then she’ll smile and say, “Then that’s good enough for us.  Our investment in you was worth every prayer and every penny.”  Peg wasn’t a hugger, but some of the rest of them were, so I suspect they’ll be a few hugs, and with every hug a “Thank you, ladies” and a “Thank you, God.” 

The Ruth Class—a gift of God wrapped in wrinkles, clip-on earrings, coiffed hair, worn out Bibles, print dresses, and maybe a little too much rouge and perfume—given to me to start me on the way to ministry.

Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God (Phil. 1:3).

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Long Arm of the Lord

See that guy in the picture?  His name is Jason.  I love that guy.  I’ve loved him for a lot of years—consider him a good friend and fellow fitness junkie.  He is bright, creative, witty, committed, a good man, a family man, Iron Man, triathlete, runner extraordinaire, and a Northerner from Chicago (but I forgive him for that, and he did have the good sense to move to the South).  Oh, and one other thing: until about a month ago, he was spiritually lost—didn’t know God.  For most of his life he didn’t even believe there is a God—used to make fun, he says, of Christians and church stuff.

His wife works for the church as a publications secretary.  A number of years ago, she talked him into coming up to the church gym and playing some basketball with us.  He did.  He discovered Christians weren’t going to judge him or twist his arm to repent.  He actually had fun with us.  He came back.  He participated in church sports.  When we developed a fitness ministry, he got involved in that—even got certified to lead fitness classes in our ministry.  Next thing you know, he visited church with his family once in a while, and then regularly, and then Sunday School class—all at his own pace, no pressure just love and friendship.  Added into that mix were occasional spiritual conversations—some initiated by Christian friends, some by Jason.  And underneath all of that were the prayers of his Christian wife and many people over several years for Jason’s salvation.

Now, what do you get when you pour all that into an atheist, mix it well, and wait on God?  You get a new believer.  A few weeks ago, Jason put his trust in Jesus Christ.  When I had the privilege to baptize him a few days ago, I couldn’t help myself but to do a little fist pump when he came up out of the water.  That fist pump was a “Yea, God!” and a “Yea, church!”  Another lost sheep found.  Another lost son came home.  God grinned.  The angels danced.  The people clapped their praise to God, and even the baptistery water did the wave.

There’s a lot more to his story.  And though Jason gave me permission to post this blog, it’s really his story to tell, not mine.  What I want to do with Jason’s story is reinforce some things his story teaches us about evangelism, and leverage it to encourage any of you who wonder if your lost loved one is a lost cause.

First, Christian friendship has great influence in getting someone to Jesus.  Jason was never a project, never a potential notch in anybody’s Bible; he was and is a friend.  Friends love unconditionally.  Friends are patient.  Friends influence but they don’t push.  As Ken Medema used to sing, “Don’t tell me I have a friend in Jesus until I have a friend in you.”

Second, never underestimate the power of prayer in evangelism.  I can’t explain the metaphysics of it all, but over time, God heard and answered the prayers of many to bring Jason to Jesus.  When Jason came to Jesus, there wasn’t one person who thought he or she was responsible for Jason’s decision.  We all know God did it, and He did it in response to prayer—years and years of prayer.

Third, if you are praying for a lost loved one to come to Christ, be patient.  Don’t give up, don’t let up, don’t quit.  Pray and wait.  Wait and pray.  God is doing things in that loved one’s life you can’t see and you don’t know.  As Master Po used to say to student Caine in the TV series Kung Fu, “Patience, grasshopper, patience.”  God is on the case.  God is working backstage, putting people and events in your loved one’s path that are gifts to help that loved one get to Jesus.  And God has the power to save your loved one.  Keep on praying and don’t lose heart.

And fourth, God has a really long arm.  It was long enough to reach Jason, long enough to reach across atheism and settled opinions and a hard heart and lift him from death to life, from being lost to being found, from “Jesus is a joke” to “My Lord and my God.”  I’ve seen God’s long arm reach hard people before.  I knew sooner or later, He would reach out and take hold of Jason.  God’s arm is long enough to reach your lost loved one too.  No case is too hard.  No soul is too lost.  No person is out of God’s reach. 

Just how long is God’s arm? 

Long enough to reach from heaven to earth,
long enough to stretch out and embrace the nails that fixed His Son Jesus to the cross on which He died for our sins,
long enough to pull His Son from death and the grave to resurrection life,
long enough to save me,
long enough to save you,
long enough to save Jason,

long enough to save all who call upon His name.

The prophet Jeremiah put it this way: "Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm.  Nothing is too hard for you” (32:17).

The prophet Isaiah put it this way: “Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear” (59:1).

And songwriter Wayne Watson said it like this in a song that I hope encourages you today:

‘Cause you can never outrun
or go beyond the reaches
of the long arm of the Lord.