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God's longest poem

The Guiness World Record for the largest all-you-can-eat buffet was once held by Alka Seltzer. It has since been surpassed. Their 510 item spread was presented at the Las Vegas Hilton. It was as if they were advertising, "Come eat our food, we guarantee it will make you sick."

I think I would prefer to eat at Les Grandes Buffet in Narbonne, France.

photo by Bernd Zimmerman on Flickr

 In an article for Civilian Global, Nick Harman writes about Les Grands,

"you stand and stare in amazement: there are rooms and rooms of food, all very, very big, with little islands of excess in the centres. Each is surrounded by hundreds of people in a lather of indecision. Every so often someone takes a frantic run at the food, as if it all might disappear any second, which seems possible as it’s all so dreamlike.
...the desserts beggared belief – there were over a hundred to choose from around the Chocolate Fountain ...how enormous and how wonderful the cheese section was. Let’s just say that I think every single cheese in France was represented in perfect condition, and that I still think about it wistfully in the small hours of the night."

Psalm 119 is like this.  If you take the time to read it. It goes on and on with truth about us, truth about God and prayers that help us get real. Bursting with 176 verses, all arranged as an acrostic poem spanning the entire Hebrew alphabet, it reminds me very much of a huge all-you-can-eat buffet. Pull up a chair. Get out your fork. Because this is an extravagant display of soul-food that beats my mother's fried chicken. While there is no way to digest all of it at once, there are still a 5 take-aways none of us should miss. Here is a buffet you can eat and not get sick!

1) Biblical faith is about being real before God


Listen to verse 81-88 that all begin with the Hebrew letter Kaph

  • "I am worn out waiting for your rescue,
        but I have put my hope in your word.
     My eyes are straining to see your promises come true.
        When will you comfort me?
     I am shriveled like a wineskin in the smoke,
        but I have not forgotten to obey your decrees.
     How long must I wait?
        When will you punish those who persecute me?
     These arrogant people who hate your instructions
        have dug deep pits to trap me.
     All your commands are trustworthy.
        Protect me from those who hunt me down without cause.
     They almost finished me off,
        but I refused to abandon your commandments.
     In your unfailing love, spare my life;
        then I can continue to obey your laws."

Do you hear how raw and real this is?

In verse 39 he prays

  • "Help me abandon my shameful ways"

And in verse 43 he prays

  • "Do not snatch your word of truth from me, for your regulations are my only hope"

This is a person who is praying real prayers to a real God who can handle it. He is not performing or putting on a show. He is laying out his needs and his fears (even though they are sometimes shameful and irrational) because he knows God can handle his honesty.

You can see this same realness in the New testament when a dad comes asking Jesus to help his sick son. He cries out, "Lord I believe, help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24) By the way, his son is still healed even though he is this raw before Jesus. God is not into our performance. He is into our honesty.

That is the first morsel of soul-food Psalm 119 offers us. Having a Biblical faith means having a real and raw and unpretentious relationship with God. The other four will be posted later. Click Here for the second one.

Where else do you see this theme in Scripture or in Psalm 119?

 

Posted by Rich McCaskill with

Evangelism in word and deed

As part of our sermon series on Strong Faith we have looked at several implications of the Christian message. The Good News of God's grace extended to us in Jesus effects everything.

Becoming a Christian makes us more loving in our neighborhood, more honest in our work, and more consistent in our parenting. It also naturally results in us becoming more comfortable in sharing our faith.

Soma is a community of Christians committed to sharing the Gospel in natural ways with the people that we regularly rub shoulders with. This post is designed to give us practical ways to do that.


In their well researched book I Once Was Lost Don Everts and Doug Schaupp identify 5 thresholds that skeptics go through when coming to faith.
1)Trusting a Christian
2) Becoming curious
3) Opening up to change
4)Seeking after God
5)Entering the Kingdom

These 5 thresholds are pulled from interviews with hundreds of new Christian believers. They are helpful for us as we build relationships with the people around us who do not share our faith. They can serve as a guide and keep us from pressuring people.

It is interesting that the first threshold is Trusting a Christian. As evangelists this shows us our first step with co-workers and neighbors; to be a trustworthy friend.

Our first step with co-workers and neighbors - to be a trustworthy friend

This is ironic because when most people think of the term "evangelist" they think of someone who is untrustworthy. They think of a TV personality who comes across as flashy and money hungry.


Jesus was the opposite of this and we will be too. Jesus' evangelism was a combination of truth telling and compassionate action. He genuinely cared about people. This in turn caused them to trust him. When we genuinely love our neighbor they will sense it and it will help them make it through that first threshold.

Guy Kawasaki has authored several books using the term "Evangelist" in the realm of the secular business world. He explains the essence of being an evangelist and his definition applies to Christians as well. On his blog he writes,

"People often ask me what the difference is between an evangelist and salesperson. Here’s the answer. A salesperson has his or her own best interests at heart: commission, making quota, closing the deal. An evangelist has the other person’s best interests at heart:"
-Guy Kawasaki

The way we live this out is by sharing our everyday life with people no strings attached. We eat together, play together, watch the game together without an agenda other than to befriend them, and know their story. Jesus modeled this for us.

In Matthew 9:10 we read, "Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples." He ate dinner with unbelievers even with people who many would consider unrighteous. And yet Jesus also ate with people on the other end of the spectrum. Luke 11 shows us another side of Jesus. "While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table." Jesus as an evangelist showed genuine love for the unrighteous and the self-righteous by eating dinner with both.


This is a good model for us as well. As Jim Peterson of the Navigators says “The most effective evangelism tool you’ll ever have is your dining room table.”

"The most effective evangelism tool you'll ever have is your dining room table"

 

In the 50's America was a different place. The church had much more influence than it does today. It was the era of Christendom. As a result, sharing the good news with others lost some of its New Testament emphases and it shifted into a more institutional model. If we asked some Christians from the 50's how they did evangelism most of them would say something like "I invite my neighbor to church" or "I take them to hear Billy Graham." Those things are not bad. However they should never replace the power and the authenticity of inviting non-Christians into our everyday lives and becoming friends. This is what Jesus did. And this is what Soma is doing.

Every week throughout the Eastside, as Missional Communities and also as individuals, Christians are sitting down together and eating meals with non-Christians with no strings attached in a genuine effort to know their story and build a friendship.

CASE STUDY - ASHLEY SMITH

Sometimes we do not have the luxury of planning ahead and inviting people over. Sometimes we just find ourselves in situations where we feel thrust out into the unknown and the situation is screaming for us to talk about our faith. Even in those circumstances we can trust that God is not surprised and that he can use us even if we feel unprepared.

Ashley Smith is an example of someone who was unprepared and who found herself thrust into the unknown. In her 2005 book Unlikely Angel she shares how Brian Nichols shot and murdered 4 people then held her hostage at gunpoint at her own apartment. Even though Ashley's circumstances were extreme, I believe we can learn from the way she talks about Jesus.

1) First of all she is Honest about her mistakes, disappointments and failures.

She tells her kidnapper about her addiction to drugs and how it caused her to lose custody of her daughter. She also tells about the murder of her husband and how it affected her. Even though Brian Nichols was a total stranger to her she gets brutally honest with him in order to find common ground. In sharing meals with non-Christians the more we can be honest about our failures and disappointments in life the quicker we will build authentic friendships. It might be as simple as telling them about a mistake we made at work or a disagreement we had with our family. These show that we are not perfect and they help people trust us.


2) Second of all she prayerfully speaks the hard truth. 

Sharing our faith means talking about Jesus with people and telling them the hard truth that they do need God, and that their life is incomplete without him. You can see how Ashley spoke hard truth to her kidnapper even though it could have made him very angry.

She recounts their conversation in her apartment and writes,
“why, don’t you just go turn yourself in now? I said, “I’ll drive you up there.”..”Your miracle could be that you go on and pay for this. That you turn yourself in right now and go to prison and share the Word of God with all the other people in there. Maybe that’s your purpose right there. Maybe that’s what God wants you to do, and he brought you here to my apartment so you could know that. I mean, listen – we could go right now” he didn’t say a word. I could see he just wasn’t moving on this at all. God I’m trying here, but I don’t know what else to say. I’ve said everything I know. It’s his choice and I can’t do any more. You just got help him make the right decision.”


Evangelists are able to be honest with others about the good news of God's grace. But in order for any of us to really grasp how good the good news really is, we need to hear the bad news - that we are distant from our Creator and that our sin has broken his heart.

The way Ashley found strength to speak hard truth was by praying in real time throughout the conversation. Her book is filled with spur of the moment prayers. It reminds us that sharing Jesus with others is never something we do without God's strength and help.


3) Last of all she pointed to Jesus.

She says to Brian Nichols “If he can forgive me he can forgive you."

"If he can forgive me, he can forgive you"

 

 
Even though he does not become a Christian right there, Brian Nichols does act differently after their time together. When she calls the police he peaceably surrenders and no one else is hurt.

If God can give Ashley the right words to share in a situation like this, he can also give us the right words to say as well.


Now, God forbid that any of us get held up at gunpoint! Nevertheless these three pieces of her evangelism intrigue me;

  • honesty about our failures and disappointments,
  • prayerfully speaking hard truth,
  • and pointing to Jesus

 

Unlikely Angel can be seen as an example of reactive evangelism. As an example of proactive evangelism however we should consider how some of our Missional Communities are living out Jesus' reminder that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world..

  • One Household baked coffee cake and took it to an elderly neighbor
  • Another Household threw a Birthday Party and invited their whole street to attend
  •  Another Household planned a neighborhood Garage Sale where they cooked free hamburgers and had free drinks
  • Another household hosted a Pumpkin Carving night for neighbors
  • Another Household  organized role - playing games for friends and co-workers
  • Another Household planned a weekly Mom’s group to make friends with their neighbors
  • Another Household opened up their Thanksgiving meal to 50 of their closest friends
  • Other Households took in children at risk and involved their  friends and neighbors in caring for their needs

These are all beautiful examples of evangelism, of spreading the good news about God's grace through word and deed. They show a genuine desire to develop friendships. When done consistently these activities break down stereotypes, they help non-Christians pass that 1st threshold, and they also help non-Christians become curious.

Posted by Rich McCaskill with

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