To Walk or Fly?

April 29, 2011

Where I live, we have geese. In my world of a shopping mall and a six-lane divided parkway, motorists will stop for geese. The episodes go like this: a mother goose decides to cross the road followed by her goslings. As they venture out, cars come to a screeching halt until the last gosling makes its way to the other side (or at least most of the time).

The other day I saw two adult geese walking across the road. The road just happened to be the six-lane divided parkway. Geese in flight are graceful. On water, they seemingly glide, but when walking across a road, they waddle. The sight is a bit comical unless an automobile is bearing down on you at 45 m.p.h. These geese had to interrupt their walk and take flight. But I had to wonder, why walk across the road when you can soar above it?

The experience reminded me of the parable, “The Tame Geese,” by Søren Kierkegaard. He imagined talking geese who every Sunday would gather for a sermon. One of the ganders would preach the lofty goal that the Creator had for geese. By aid of their wings, they could fly to blessed climes. This was their proper home. Here they were only pilgrims and strangers. The sermon would be met with approval of the geese. They would bow and courtesy at the fine words, and then they would waddle home.

During the week, the geese entertained some thoughts that they would never allow on Sunday. They discussed the dangers of flying. They would recount the tale of a goose who wanted to make serious use of the wings God had given him. A terrible death had befallen him. Other like-minded geese had suffered and grown thin. The majority of the geese concluded: “There you see what it leads to when flying is taken seriously.” Kierkegaard ends the parable this way:

And so the next Sunday they went again to divine worship, and the old gander preached about the high goal the Creator (here again the geese curtsied and the ganders bowed the head) had set before the geese, whereto the wings were designed.

So with the divine worship of Christendom…

I sometimes wonder about our faith — mine included. We live in a convenient and comfortable world. Our world is not so different from the one Kierkegaard critiqued. Are we walking, when God intended us to fly?

What Jesus Means to Me

April 22, 2011

Jesus is the wisdom of God. I probably would not have called it wisdom as I was first coming to know Jesus. The more common phrase would be moral teaching. But it may very well be that Jesus attracts us at this beginning point, and we begin to connect with him.

The moral teachings are accessible. Even a child can understand the basics. The greatest command is to love God with all of our being. The second greatest command is to love our neighbor as ourself. We need to control our anger. We shouldn’t lie. Jesus teaches us a simple beginner’s prayer. We need to trust God as our heavenly Father. We must build our house on the rock, and not be like the foolish man who builds his house on the sand.

As we mature, it may hit us how challenging some of these teachings are. To love our enemies is not an easy task. To go the second mile may chafe us like an ill-fitting suit. We may also grasp that Jesus is the wisdom of God because he has come from the Father. Jesus is the one who has come down from heaven to reveal God. “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” Jesus is Immanuel — God with us.

Jesus is the gift of God. At a young age I learned “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.” “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.” Jesus died for my sins.

To understand those words, we must come to accept that God is holy. The basic human problem is sin — moral failure. My moral failings estrange me from God. They lead to my spiritual death if not forgiven. Forgiveness is possible because of a life sacrificed in my place. Jesus is that sacrifice, that offering.

Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Seen by witnesses and predicted by prophecy, the resurrection is also God’s great affirmation of Jesus. Sin and death are conquered. New creation has begun. In Christ, I am a new creation having been born again of the Holy Spirit. With God’s help, a moral transformation is at work in my life. The same Spirit will raise me from the dead giving me a resurrection body or transform me in the blinking of an eye if I’m alive at Jesus’ coming. Because of Jesus we experience new life now, and we look forward to resurrection and life with God for eternity.

Jesus is wisdom, a gift, and life. And Jesus is so much more. Jesus means much to me. What does Jesus mean to you?

“Consequences of Faith”

April 15, 2011

After examining the arguments for the existence of God, Batsell Barrett Baxter in his book, I Believe Because…, demonstrates that there are consequences to skepticism and faith. Quote after quote from famous skeptics paint a dark picture of life. Life is meaningless and hopeless. Morality is crumbling leading to ever greater anger, rebelliousness, violence, and destructiveness.

The chapter entitled, “Consequences of Faith,” presents a far brighter view of life. Life has meaning, joy, and hope. One quote is from T.B. Larimore, a Christian educator and gospel preacher, written in his later years:

My faith has never been stronger; my hope has never been brighter; my head has never been clearer; my heart has never been calmer; my life has never been purer. I love all; I hate none. My love for some lifts my soul into the realm of the sublime. I am willing to die today; I am willing to live a thousand years, to tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love. My friends are dearer to me; association with them is sweeter to me; my sympathy for suffering souls is stronger; my love for all the pure, the true, the beautiful, the good, and the sublime—from the bud, the blossom, the babe, up to Him from whom all blessings flow—is truer, tenderer, sweeter, than ever before…. I sleep soundly, dream sweetly, and “rejoice evermore.” “The word” is sweeter and stronger to me than ever before. O it is delightful to love and be loved, and to do whatsoever duty demands! My vanity is all gone. What the people say does not bother me. I’ll never waver, but always to the right be true.

My experience in life tells me that Larimore’s sentiments are not unique. The walk of faith develops this kind of character.

Baxter observed that for the Christian, “we accept one big miracle (God) and everything else makes sense. In atheism man must accept an endless series of little miracles in order to explain existence.” The problem for the skeptic is that life then doesn’t make sense. The consequences of faith are that life has meaning, and death is faced with hope.

The Difficult Thing about Wisdom

April 7, 2011

The book of Proverbs was written to make us wise. Yet Proverbs itself indicates that more information is insufficient to produce wisdom. For example, wise words, a rebuke, and even a proverb on the lips of a fool may be to no avail.

Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, For he will despise the wisdom of your words. Proverbs 23:9, NASB

A rebuke goes deeper into one who has understanding Than a hundred blows into a fool. Proverbs 17:10, NASB

Like the legs which are useless to the lame, So is a proverb in the mouth of fools. Proverbs 26:7, NASB

So what is so difficult about wisdom?

Proverbs lays the foundation for wisdom and identifies the difficult thing for us: we must trust God more than ourself. We must fear/respect/reverence God, so that we go His way rather than our way.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the LORD and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your body And refreshment to your bones. Proverbs 3:5-8, NASB

More information won’t help, if the attitude is wrong. It’s like the Tree of Life in the center of the garden (see Genesis 3) all over again for each of us. Will we listen to God, or will we listen to our own lusts and the Serpent’s call?

Someone has noted the different approaches people take to the Bible, God’s word.

  • Some people accept none of it.
  • Many people accept part of it.
  • A few people accept all of it.
  • Some people live none of it.
  • Many people live part of it.
  • A few people live most of it.

Which approach describes you? It’s precisely at this point that Proverbs and the rest of the Bible challenges us. The difficult thing about wisdom is that it requires us to trust the Lord with all of our heart. The prerequisite for wisdom is faith.

Into All the World

April 1, 2011

Although there are places in the world that are very secular which makes evangelism more difficult, places also exist that are very fruitful. Sub-saharan Africa is a great example. In 1989, there were 6,222 local congregations with a membership of 416,874. By 2002, 14,669 congregations existed with a total membership of 1,070,837. By way of comparison, the United States had 12,719 local congregations of churches of Christ with a membership of 1,239,612 in 1980. In 2006, we had 12,963 congregations and a membership of 1,265,844.

Other brights spots in the world include Eastern Europe and areas formerly under the control of the Soviet Union. Members of the church have been able to provide printed materials to public schools, and congregations have been planted. Latin America is also experiencing growth. We have had over 100 vocational missionaries teaching English in China. The Philippines has 24 missionaries and 900 congregations. There are places that are more fruitful, and there are places that are more challenging. God is always doing great things by people of faith regardless of whether they are in fruitful areas or challenging areas.1

Whether a place is very fruitful or whether it is tougher going, the faithful must go. Jesus did not say, “Go into all the places that are very receptive.” He said, “Go into the world.” Certainly, churches must recognize open doors and take advantage of them. But any long range strategy must recognize that all places need missionaries and evangelism.

J.M. McCaleb was a missionary to Japan for about fifty years. He went to Japan in 1892. People wondered about going to Japan when “the fields are white unto harvest” in the United States. The nineteenth century was a period of great church growth. McCaleb had an illustration that spoke to the pioneer environment.

The wise farmer doesn’t just reap from the fields he has prepared. He may go to another part of his property and prepare a field. He may have to fell trees and pull up roots. He may have many stones to clear. It may take time before this area of the farm is ready to be a truly productive field. But the time will come when others may reap abundant harvests where a few have prepared the way.2

This was J.M. McCaleb’s way of reminding us to go into all the world. God is doing great things through people of faith. It may be in areas of great fruitfulness; it may be in difficult areas. But there’s the rub. Let us not be discouraged. God will be with us when we act in faith. We need faith to share the good news with a world that so desperately needs it.

1Dr. Monty Cox, “Around the World in Sixty Minutes,” Harding University Lectureship, 2008.

2J.M.McCaleb, OnceTraveled Roads, pages 361-62.