Here Comes the Reign!

Here Comes the Reign!

“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven.”       –Acts 1:11

                As I write this, I am waiting for the rain to pass so I can return to what I was formerly doing…mowing the lawn.  Of my list of things to complete today, mowing the yard is at the top.  The grass is in desperate need of a length adjustment and I knew my time could be, might be, hampered by the forecast of rain.  As I mowed, the clouds built and I found myself keeping one eye on the lawn and the other on the sky.  The thought crossed my mind that, perhaps, it was silly to even begin something that I might not be able to finish.  But, while it looked like the rain was imminent, it wasn’t here yet, so I figured I might as well work until it did arrive. As the appearance of rain seemed more and more likely, I found myself mentally dividing the lawn up into sections in accordance to need; some parts would be easier to mow later if the rain did come where as some parts would become more difficult.  I went after the thickest grass first, hoping to get those parts finished…just in case.

As I continued with my mowing madness, and mentally singing songs from last week’s VBS (Vacation Bible School), I began to see a similarity between the last day’s lesson and my current approach to yard work.  On Friday, we were reminded to keep watching for Christ’s return; we went over John’s vision of Heaven as recorded in Revelation and were encouraged to live in light of Jesus’ second coming.  As I reflected on my current approach to lawn mowing, God reminded me that I needed to apply this same attitude to my daily living.  How quickly I dove into the task of yard work when I thought my time was limited.  Shouldn’t I have this same outlook with my desire to witness?  Shouldn’t I “be about my Father’s business’’ knowing that His return could be at any moment?  I looked to the sky wondering when the rain would come; isn’t there another reign that is even more imminent and important?  I started to see the parallels between the two, and I was saddened to learn that I am far more purpose-driven in my approach to yard work than I am in my attitude toward kingdom work.

For centuries, believers have been waiting for Christ’s return.  We have Jesus’ words telling us that He has gone to prepare a place for us and that, one day…in the twinkling of an eye…He will return (I Cor. 15:52).  No sooner than Jesus had left this earth, we hear the disciples proclaiming His impending return.  Peter preached of it, John persevered for it, and Paul pined for it.  Today, almost 2,000 years later, we are still waiting for the forecasted “reign”.  We do not know when Christ will return but we do know He is coming and, when He does, it will be unexpectedly.  Therefore, we are always to be ready; we are to keep one eye on the sky while still keeping both hands on the plow.  As time has passed, there has been a tendency, just as there was in the early church, to think we have more time than we truly do.  The more appropriate, and accurate, view we should have is that with the passing of time we now have less time in which to prepare for the “reign”.  Shouldn’t we be even more diligent in our duty to share the gospel with others?  Shouldn’t we, shouldn’t I, be looking around and dividing my field of ministry into sections based upon need so that I can be certain to reach all the areas entrusted to my care?  There is the section of family, those who are literally the closest to me.  Then, there are my neighbors and my colleagues.  Another section would be those who have not heard God’s word, those in remote areas around the world…or around the corner.  When Jesus gave His final marching orders to the disciples, He spoke these words, “And you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth,” (Acts 1:8b).  The same mandate Jesus gave to His disciples He has also given to us.  This directive was passed on through Paul to Timothy as he was instructed to build up faithful followers who would “teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2).  And so, today, we are given the same assignment.

As I stated earlier, I have come inside to await the passing of the rain.  The funny thing is how God stopped my mowing and seared this lesson in one fell swoop.  Since I was determined to mow until I knew the threat of rain was real, I didn’t stop when I felt the first drop.  I kept going because one drop does not a shower make.  One drop led to two drops; two drops quickly became twenty drops, and by the time I realized it was really going to rain, I had no time to make it any further than to the edge of the yard and to park under some trees.  It didn’t just rain, it poured; the sky bottomed out and there was nowhere to go that the rain couldn’t reach.  How fitting!  I had thought the rain would occur gradually, giving me plenty of time to go park the mower.  My presumption crashed into God’s providence, and the episode left me ditched, drenched, and dumbfounded.  I couldn’t help but laugh as God illustrated the lesson He had presently brought to my mind!  How ironic it was that I should think I had more time than I actually did; to think that I could keep at it until I saw the evidence of rain and then, and only then, move out of harm’s way and seek shelter.  Doesn’t God’s word tell us that His return will be as quick as lightening? (Matt. 24:27)  Just as suddenly as this rain began, so too will His reign begin.  It will be quick and powerful; shelter will be in Him alone, there will be no other hiding place.  And making a run for it?  Well, that will not be an option!  Forget the “I’ll get ready when the first drop falls.”  That mode of thinking will be futile and foolish.

I thought the lawn was the only thing that needed an adjustment today.  God determined that I too needed an adjustment.  He used the onset of a rain shower to remind me that I needed to look to the skies to gauge more than just the amount of time I might have to mow; I also needed to make the most of the time I had to sow.  I have learned that I operate under a ‘more to less’ ratio; I accomplish more work when I realize I have less time.  While this can be an effective task management tool, it should be an even greater witnessing tool.  As I await Christ’s return, each passing day draws me closer to that event; my time is ebbing so my telling should be flowing.  The reign is coming, will you too prepare for it?

God’s Paper Clips

God’s Paper Clips

“I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered.”  Isaiah 56:8

 Have you ever used a magnet to make a magnet?  I remember doing an experiment in science in which we would try to see how many paper clips we could pick up, end to end, with a magnet.  After the paper clips stayed in the chain for an extended period of time we’d find that they had magnetic qualities of their own.  Then, we would make chains with the paper clips apart from the magnet.  They were never as strong without the larger magnet, but, for a while, they were quite “attractive”.

Recently, while reading about God’s assignment to all His followers (known to most as the Great Commission), I remembered this experiment and thought about how rightly it portrayed our relationship, our connection, with God and with others.  We are, in a sense, God’s paper clips!  As He draws us to Himself, His power works in us and then through us to draw others to Himself.  Even in our weakness, we are useful to God as He chooses to work through man to reach man.  His method.  His means.  His magnetism.   Who knew how deeply insightful an experiment with paper clips could be?  By pulling this lesson out of the textbook and placing it alongside The Word-book, we can examine the similarities between magnetism and ministry; between desirability and discipleship.

In looking at magnetism, the first thing we notice, the most obvious thing to notice, is that not all objects respond to a magnet.  Items such as paper, wood, and glass are no more attracted to a magnet than I am attracted to liver!  And, while they manage to avoid the magnet without grimacing, their distaste for its poles is just as real.  Through this we learn the two characteristics needed for objects to become magnetic:  they must have atoms that are free to move about, to be realigned, and they must have an unequal number of protons and electrons.  These two qualities are vital because magnetism results when the atoms in an object are able to be aligned so they can move in the same direction and when they have either a positive or a negative charge.  Neutrality may be an effective political pole, but it is inept as a magnetic pole!  So, when we encounter items that are not impacted by a magnet, we know that either their atoms are too “set in their ways” and therefore can’t be realigned (can you predict where, shortly, I will go with this?), or that their electrons and protons are so well-matched that they are unable to give off any charge…they are neither positive nor negative; neither hot nor cold (sound familiar…can you say Laodicean?).  Oh my, magnetism has so much to teach us!

The second thing we learn about magnetic objects is that in order for them to retain their magnetic status, they must either have an electric current running through them (as is true for electromagnets) or they must continually be impacted by a larger, stronger, magnet so that their alignment stays true.  Wow!  I don’t think I even need to connect the dots that just surfaced.  I trust you can make out the picture even before the lines are drawn!  But, you came to read and I showed up early to write, so let’s both do what we came to do and complete this picture!

As I stated at the beginning, when it comes to our usefulness to God, we may think of ourselves as His paper clips.  And, if we are the paper clips, then God is the magnet; He is the source that both attracts us and then realigns us to go out and do likewise…to attract others; not by our power but by HIs, and not to ourselves but to His side.  In applying the truths identified regarding magnetism, we must now stand beside them to see how truly they apply to us, the paper clips.  First, we must ask ourselves if we are truly attractable.  Do we have a metal core or are we literally “paper” clips (with no magnetic qualities) which are unable to feel the pull of the Magnet?  Are we trying to live apart from the force field exuding from our Creator?  Are our atoms of assumption so fixed that, even when jostled about, they cannot break free enough to be realigned?  Do trials make us hold more tightly to our false hopes rather than freeing us to let go…and let God?  In order to be holy aligned, we first must be wholly unaligned.  Randomness must go for order, and attraction, to emerge.

Secondly, once our atoms are moving in the same direction, we must look to see if we are giving off a charge.  Are we attracting others by our positive charge?  If so, our protons are dominate and are actively impacting others.  Or, are we seeing more of a negative charge because, as is also true for magnets, we are pushing others away rather than pulling them in?  We must always examine our force field to see if we are pushing or pulling.  And even then, we must examine what we are pushing and what we are pulling.  Bar magnets don’t discriminate; believer magnets do!  Some things shouldn’t be picked up and some things should be pushed away.  We would be wise to examine the items within our force field to make sure our pushes and our pulls are working for our good and for His glory!

But, what if there isn’t anything in our force field because we don’t have one?  What if, in our effort to have everything orderly, with no room for occasional disorder, we find our protons and electrons are perfectly arranged?  While we might think this state of uniformity is desirable, and certainly more predictable and manageable, we must face the fact that it makes us ineffective for the kingdom.  In Revelation 3:15, a reproof is given to the church in Laodicea because they are neither hot nor cold, but are lukewarm.  Cold water is refreshing; hot water is comforting; lukewarm water is bland and purposeless.  To this people, God says “I will spit you out of My mouth.”  This, I fear, is just as prevalent among people today as it was in the first century.  We don’t have to look far to find areas in which neutrality is desired at the cost of truth.  If truths convict, they are closeted; if absolutes agitate, they are abolished; if principles are problematic, they are perforated.  And what fills the void following their removal?  Preferences, pacifications, and placations.  All neutral; all lukewarm; all void of a charge; all unable to pick up a single paper clip.

Finally, let’s hope that, at least in our mind’s eye, our atoms are rightly aligned and we are giving off a positive charge.  Now, when we look up, we see we are attached…and more importantly we feel the attachment…to God and when we look around we see other paper clips are extending from us.  How wonderful!  God is in us and is working through us to reach others!  We are New Testament believers who are God’s witnesses in Judea, in all Jerusalem and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

We are living out 2 Timothy 2:2 which says, “And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”  One paper clip, two paper clips, three paper clips, more.  At this point, are there any other laws of magnetism that apply to us?  Oh, but there are.  First, there is the fact that we all tend to return to a state of randomness if we are not kept close to the source of our strength.  If we are not continually rubbing against the larger magnet we will eventually lose our charge and our atoms will return to their natural state of disorder.  As we apply this to our lives, we are reminded of the necessity of staying in God’s word, of spending time in prayer, and of worshipping with believers through our local church.  Next, we must remember that sometimes, because this world tends to pull on us as well, our atoms get discombobulated and we need to be realigned.  While this occurs through spending more time in the presence of our Master Magnet, it sometimes involves a great shake-up that breaks all our misaligned atoms free from what is holding them so that, once shaken free, they are once again moveable and able to travel in the right direction.  We tend to think that, once we are attached upwardly and attracting outwardly that there won’t be any more chaos.  Unfortunately, we will never fully escape the pull of the world until we are finally out of this world and, therefore, the shake-ups will occur, but never for our undoing and always for our redoing.

Magnetism, paper clips, alignment, and discipleship; all are found within the same force field and all are scientifically accurate because they are Biblically true.  What a God, what a Magnet; what a pull, what an attraction.  May we all be held in God’s power, charged by His strength, and filled with His current so that “others might also be gathered” to His throne.  (Isaiah 56:8).

Stick People

Stick People

 “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”         –Hebrews 4:13

I am not an artist.  I know I have limited abilities within this area and, as a result, I am
left with limited options.   But, I do have enough dexterity to sketch stick people. man and woman stick peopleI can draw both the male and the female varieties.  I can also draw stick dogs stick dogand trees. With some added determination I can add movement to my drawings by bending a line here and another one there.  All in all, I can relay some information graphically but, as is true for most non-artists,
my sketches require a title, or subtitle, so that the picture may be decrypted and depreciated (yes…that’s right; appreciation is far too lofty of a goal, but depreciation…well, that’s quite attainable).        stick swinging person

The thing that makes drawing stick figures so easy is that they are one-dimensional.  Other than the presence of lines, no other element of art is displayed.  There is no form, no texture, no value; no kidding; it’s very simplistic.  Unfortunately, that does not make for a great drawing.  Neither does it make for great disciple-making.  But, true to form (or the lack thereof), too often we tend to look at discipling as one-dimensionally as we look at stick figures.  How do I know this?  Well…it all came from another lesson from the woods.

The other day I was gathering sticks in the woods.  And, as I’ve noticed before, there are always more out there than I first realize.  I’ll scan the area that currently lies under my scrutiny and venture out to collect the two or three sticks I see emerging from the leaves.  But, on my way, I see one stick after another that wasn’t visible from a distance.  I stoop to collect these and, before I’ve even gotten to the first stick I had set my eye upon, my arms are loaded and I have to head back to deposit my collection so I can, again, go after the two or three sticks I first saw.  Not only are there always more than I was first aware of, but there are usually larger ones than I expected.  Too often it has turned out that the biggest sticks were the hidden ones.  Sometimes, I didn’t even know they were present until I stepped on them.  Then, as I bent over to collect the newly exposed stick I found that it wasn’t a stick at all but a fully concealed branch.  Once again, I trudged back to my starting point with an armload of wood; and, once again, I returned to collect the two or three sticks I initially saw and had still not gotten to.

As this pattern played out again the other day, I thought how truly it displayed the manner in which we (all who, as believers, are part of the universal church) approach the ministry of disciple-making and disciple-mending.  Don’t we too often look at people from a distance rather than up close?  Don’t we also tend to look at people simplistically as if they were one-dimensional rather than as three-dimensional?  I think we do.  I think this because I have felt it and, in feeling it, have realized that I too have done the same thing.  I minister as well as I draw:  stick people….stick methods.  As I thought of the relationship between the woods and the world and between sticks and people, I saw several correlations.

First, there is the truth that to really see what (or who) needs to be gathered, one has to go to where they are lying.  A scan from the distance won’t reveal all that’s hidden.  The greatest needs won’t be known until they are walked among, over, and upon.  Personal presence and touch is mandatory.  Once the proximity has been shortened, the needs will become more evident.  Then, upon their sighting, one must actually bend over and gather them up.  In doing so, it’s quite possible that there will be more there than expected.  It might be shocking…it might be messy…there might be a fungus (those icky, jelly-type ones that make me ever so thankful for gloves) or insects…or root rot!  Yes, this work is not for the faint of heart; it requires energy (we must be willing to go), flexibility (we must be willing to bend), and work clothes (we won’t be wearing our Sunday best because this type of work won’t take place inside the church building).  Isn’t all this true for people as well as for sticks?  We must be willing to go to where people are; we must be willing to walk among them, around them, and with them.  We must realize that what we saw from a distance, when evident, was simply one-dimensional and that there was much more under the surface that, when uncovered, revealed the true three-dimensional nature of who they really are.  In the uncovering process, don’t we encounter messes?  Aren’t there things that were affected by their covering, things that don’t need to be ignored but rightly handled, even if gloves are needed?  In the case of larger branches, the uncovering process will often leave a disruption to the surrounding area.  Often, leaves need to be raked back over the site or holes need to be filled in.  In the lives of people we see this, too.  Repairs may be needed during or after the gathering procedure.  This personal interaction is the tell-tale mark of disciple-making:  it’s life touching, life-mending, and life-giving; it’s three dimensional ministering.

I think the connection between sticks and people is all too close-fitting, and convicting.  I think this so much that now as I pull sticks out from under their leafy coverings I see them as a depiction of “stick people” who are in need of being found, of being seen, of being gathered.  I see the woods as the representation of the territory God has called us all to go into in order to minister to His “stick people”; to people who are more than just lines but who have depth of form, intrinsic texture, and eternal value; people who are truly His works of art…His masterpieces.

Jesus’ final words to His disciples, and His continual words to us, were (are) that they (and we) go and make disciples of all nations.  He has called us to go into the woods with feet willing to tread upon concealed sticks, with eyes searching for covered branches, and with hands ready to deal with messy surfaces, and with arms ready to embrace all that we’ve found.  Then, when we’re unable to carry anymore, we are to lay down our load at His feet and return to the woods that we might collect just one more stick…just one more branch…just one more pile…for His name’s sake and for their soul’s sake.

Let’s not forget what Jesus told us to do and the manner in which we must carry this out:  up-close and personal…using our eyes, our feet, and our hands that we may minister as, and to, the three-dimensional beings we are and we see.