Bible Study, Day 1

Bible Study2

It began today. I honestly had no idea what to expect. I invited 20 guys over the last two weeks to come to this weekly Bible Study, and I had no idea how many of them would actually show up. I knew there would be at least two of us, and I figured, if that’s enough for the Lord, it would certainly be enough for me.

Turns out, there were six of us, all together, which was totally awesome. I was especially thrilled that one of them told me he hadn’t gone to church since he was a little boy — and he’s nearing retirement age. I can’t tell you how excited I was to have him in the room with us.

We’re studying the book of Ephesians. I selected that book for several reasons: First of all, because it’s short. This group is planned for the 14 weeks of summer, and we only have 30 minutes a week. (I wish we could spend 30 minutes per verse!)  So we’re going to have to keep a good pace. Second, because it is such a gem of an epistle. It is so dense. As I said to the group, “All the major themes of the entire Bible converge in this one little letter. From Creation, to the Cross, to the Coming again; from grace, to peace, to love, to warfare. It’s all here in one condensed little book.”

But the main reason I chose it is because it sets out the gospel so clearly and beautifully. Grace, through faith, from God’s rich love. That’s it. That is the real message that I hope to proclaim loudly and clearly this summer.

To all of you who prayed for me last week, I want to express my sincerest gratitude! God definitely answered your prayers! If you would like to continue to support me in this way, please pray that I would know how to lead the group wisely and winsomely. (Those of you who know my background know that I could easily preach at these guys for 30-minutes-straight without coming up for air! But I want to leave room for the Lord to work through others and not just me. So I will need to know when to just keep quiet.) And pray also that if there are any other would-be attenders that are still on the fence (particularly like my friend with little church background), pray that I might be attentive for more opportunities to extend additional invitations.

There were so many times over the last few weeks that I found myself wondering, “What in the world am I getting myself into?” But the Lord has shown me time and again that He has His hands on this thing. Once I finally rested in that, I had great peace.

But today, it was just plain fun.

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Workplace Missions

bible study

I don’t remember exactly what the topic of our conversation was —  I was probably whining about some frustration I had at work, or maybe complaining that my job didn’t seem very “significant” in the grand scheme of things.

That’s when my friend Dave asked me a piercing question. He said, “Kevin, imagine for a moment that your church raised your support and appointed you as a missionary… to your office building. How would that change your attitude about work?”

That question stopped me cold and convicted me deeply. Because, of course, I have been called as a missionary to my office. God gave me this job (miraculously, by the way), and He has appointed me to view it as my mission field. And while I have always known that, there was something about Dave’s question that made it much more real to me.

So, I have finally decided to do something about it. Something real. I’ve been thinking about doing this for years, but I’ve never had the guts to actually give it a go. But this week it’s real: I’m starting a workplace Bible Study. I got permission from my boss and H.R. to use one of the conference rooms, and I have found one other Christian to join with me. I even made some business-card invitations:

guys bible study (work)

I know very few Christians in the building, but that’s okay because that’s not who I’m planning to invite, primarily. I have several non-churched friends, and they are the ones I am praying for.  And so, tomorrow, I plan to make the rounds to invite them. Quite frankly, I am scared to death. It will probably be quite awkward, walking into their office and saying, “Yeah, I uh, know you haven’t gone to church in the last 10 years, but how would you like bringing your lunch into a conference room once a week to talk about the Bible?” But, Lord willing, that’s exactly what I plan to do. It’s exciting and scary and nerve-wracking and feels like the most adventures thing I have done in years.

When I confessed my lingering doubts about this whole idea to my partner (who’s been meeting with me to pray about this for the last few weeks), he encouraged me by saying, “We could fail at a far less noble goal.” Indeed we could.

I would sure appreciate any other prayers that any of you might be willing to cast up on our behalf. Like — you have no idea how much I would appreciate it! Because, after all, if I am going to be a missionary, I really need to have prayer support.

So consider this my first missionary prayer letter.

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Defending the Homestead

Steve Smith and company -cropped2

Dads:  Critical question –  How vigilantly are you protecting your family?

A good friend of mine lives with his family on a gorgeous ranch in Idaho. Steve grew up in the big country, so he knows his way around the back woods. Unfortunately, not all is well on the Smith homestead: Steve has a wolf problem. Some time ago, a decision was made by the US Fish & Wildlife Service to re-introduce wolves into the region surrounding Steve’s ranch. This environmentally compassionate and well-intentioned effort has brought with it unintended consequences.

Steve began  noticing the problem when his cows started disappearing. He has lost 7 calves to the predator so far. The wolves’ ferocity is staggering: “They can kill and clean up a 400lb calf so that when you come by in 30 hours, there’s nothing left but a blood stain on the dirt and some hay on the ground that spilled out of the rumenant, and a fly tag and an ear tag. No bones nothing.”

And it’s not just the cattle that are victimized; other wildlife in the region are faring no better. “I have noticed a 70% decrease in wildlife on our range alone just this year,” Steve says. “I am convinced that those who love the wolf, hate the deer, elk, moose, and antelope…. I get tired of being on the range and seeing antelope with half of his butt ate out and he is running off packing one hind leg and bleeding. You never know if they make it or not.”

But what concerns Steve even more than the wildlife is the danger that the wolves represent to his family. “Our kids can’t play in the forest like they used to,” he explains. “You have to carry a gun everywhere you go, even to change irrigation wheel-lines in the hayfield, and if you break down in your car at night-there is no more walking to the nearest farmhouse for help.” Understandably, in an environment of such ever-looming danger, Steve admits, “My hair is constantly raised up on the back of my neck… But I’m getting used to it.”

It is not surprising then, in a situation like this, that Steve has decided to do what any loving, protective father would: he’s taking the heat to the wolf. Not content any longer to sit idly by while his loved-ones and livelihood remain under threat, Steve courageously set out to eradicate the enemy from his property and his range.

And when I say this requires courage, I’m not exaggerating. This is not some feeble little pest that’s roaming around Steve’s fence-line. The Canadian Grey Wolf is a ferocious animal. And they don’t travel alone — they hunt in packs… vicious packs that make Harlem gangs look like Cub Scouts. Steve, of course, doesn’t hunt alone either… or limit himself to a single gun. “You don’t want to run out of ammo in an encounter,” Steve explained to one of his friends. “You can’t just scare them off. Even if they are wounded they will still attack. Your only defense is shoot to kill.”

And I guess it goes without saying that you probably don’t want to miss.

big wolf

Now, I’m not narrating this story as some diatribe against environmental conservationism, and I’m no NRA activist. What Steve has chosen to do is both brave and commendable; there’s no doubt about that. But there’s something deeper in Steve’s story than just wilderness survival. The lesson that I take to heart goes beyond rifles and side-arms. After hearing Steve’s description of his tenacious resistance, a question came to my mind that I can’t escape:

How valiantly am I guarding my own household from the predatory enemy that prowls around my children like a hungry beast?

I don’t have wild animals in my suburban neighborhood. It’s been years since I’ve heard the coyotes in the fields. The most formidable critter we’ve seen around here was the skunk that got pancaked by a car last week up on the main road. (Poor car!) But as I stare in the face of the wolf in the picture that Steve posted, and as I imagine the ferocity which that beast must have exhibited while it was still on the prowl, I am sobered by the realization that the Enemy who seeks to devour my family is no less fearsome, and no less dangerous. So what am I doing to protect and defend my home and my loved-ones against this snarling adversary? 

If I understand 1 Peter 5:8 correctly, I’ve got to believe that the devil and his minions are actively engaged in a protracted campaign aimed at nothing less than the savage destruction of my family. His various strategies are as numerous as the wolves: moral sabotage, spiritual distraction, materialistic complacency, relational discord — the list could go on and on. He wants to take me down. He would be delighted to see my family shredded. He has every intention of ripping us apart.

~~~~

The Apostle Paul was no stranger to wild animal attacks. According to 1 Cor 15:32, he “fought wild beasts in Ephesus”. But, as harrowing as that encounter must have been, it barely garnered a mention in his personal bio-reel. There was another danger that he was far more concerned about  — a threat to his loved-ones so menacing that it actually brought him to tears. At the twilight of his career, he gathered together some of his dearest friends — members of his church staff in Ephesus. Knowing this would be his final words to them, he laid out a dire warning (using an analogy that perhaps reminded them of that beast-fighting encounter I just mentioned — which occurred in their own town). He looked them in the eyes and said,

Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock… Be shepherds!…. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. (Acts 20:28-31)

Of course, Paul is addressing elders, and the flock that he is referring to in this context is the church of God. Nevertheless as a dad, I am charged with shepherding my own flock (my family), and clearly I must do so with equal vigilance. This passionate and tearful plea should ring in my ears as much as my pastor’s: Be on your guard!  Savage wolves will come! Protect your homestead!

As I was mulling over these words this week, I happened to come across a statement from Jesus that bore a striking resemblance to Paul’s. Interestingly, the Lord chose the very same imagery to broadcast his own warning:

 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” (Matt 7:15)

Hold these two passages side-by-side and you will notice several parallels. They both begin with the same greek word: prosekete, which basically means “keep your eyes open”. The implication is that this danger will sneak up on you if you are not watching diligently. Furthermore, both passages make it clear that these wolves are not to be trifled with. Jesus calls them “ferocious” (literally, “rapacious”, from the word for cutting) and Paul labels them “savage” (which comes from the word for “heavy”, and may be translated “oppressive” or “ruthless”). The point is sharp: the enemy is beastly and fierce. These wolves mean to do you great harm and they will not be frightened off, even when wounded.

But the most sobering warning — and one highlighted in both of these passages — is that these wolves are exceptionally crafty. They won’t look like wolves. Instead they will be “wearing sheep’s clothing,” (Matthew) and “coming from your own number” (Ephesians). The point is that, unlike the menacing varmints in my friend Steve’s back woods, these ravenous creatures won’t look dangerous. In fact, they just may look like friends.

If I understand what Paul and Jesus are saying, the basic principal seems to be that the most dangerous influences in our children’s lives are the ones that we casually invite into our homes. As a dad with young teenage children and toddlers, I’ll have to admit — this is a warning that chills my spine. Who, or what am I allowing into my children’s lives that may appear perfectly acceptable, but may in fact be perilous to their well-being and character?

Now I don’t mean to be overly-dramatic; I am not suggesting that we strictly isolate our children from every worldly diversion. But as a concerned father, I am obligated to be keenly observant regarding the influences that I allow in my children’s lives: the entertainment, the music, the media, the friends. It is my job to astutely defend their hearts and their souls. And in this culture of ubiquitous electronics which stream incessant messages of self-centeredness, indulgence, immorality, and dishonor, this is no easy task.

Like my friend Steve, I must be constantly armed; I must scan the horizon diligently, sober to the reality that prowls my fence-line.  And at the same time, I also need to be training my children to be discerning observers themselves — not easily fooled by what presents itself as sheepish and innocent. It is so easy for children to parrot our culture’s values. It is not as easy to peel off the sheepskin and reveal the danger lurking inside.

I certainly don’t have all the answers about raising children wisely nor identifying wolves accurately. But Steve’s report from the ranch has stirred me to think more circumspectly about the peril that lurks so near my home. If you have children or grandchildren, I’m sure you share my concern. What are some of the hidden dangers that you have observed in your own family? I would love to read your stories in the comments below about the wool-covered wolves that are on your radar.

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Enough is Enough

interceptionFor some reason I was more emotionally invested in The Super Bowl than I typically get in football games. This made the cattywampus ending particularly difficult to take. In the hours after the game, as I processed the grief, I was reminded of a similarly disappointing athletic event that I participated in long ago. It is embarrassingly silly by comparison (and I haven’t thought about it in years), but it seemed deeply significant at the time — and it proved to be one of the earliest milestones in my spiritual journey.

Hume Lake Christian conference grounds was the annual destination of my church youth group throughout all of my middle school and high school years. This heavenly retreat center never failed to be the emotional and spiritual highlight of my year. It was always off-the-scale fun. Like most church camps, the athletic events were a centerpiece of each day. It was our summer olympics: church against church, cabin against cabin, mano y mano. Unfortunately, my church always seemed to end up somewhere south of 7th place year after year. That is, until my senior year. In the summer of 1984, the Grace Church youth group came prepared to win. And win we did: each day we dominated virtually every event. Each evening when the day’s standings were announced, we went wild as they called out our name in the first place slot. But daily standings aside, the ultimate pinnacle of our ambition was to be declared the olympic champions at the end of the week.

We continued to hold the top spot until the last day, and we were thrilled to learn that the final event was to be the 4×4 relay. This was exciting because two of our teammates were star track & field sprinters back home. We had no doubt that we would own this event and claim that coveted top prize.

I still remember as I watched that race: the third sprint… the final hand-off to our anchor… the baton dropping to the ground… our competitors speeding past us to win… and our amped excitement evaporating before our unbelieving eyes. I still remember the bitter disappointment that swamped our hearts and clouded our minds. It was this heartache that the Seahawks reminded me of Sunday afternoon.

But that wasn’t the only story that God had been unfolding in my heart that summer. In the months leading up to the camp, He had slowly been awakening a brand new spiritual hunger in me. Although I had been a “Christian” since my early youth, I look back on that Spring of 1984 as the real beginning of my spiritual life. So I had arrived at camp that year with a heart that had been freshly stoked with a fledgling fervor for the Lord.

And so there I was on that final day, surrounded by my buddies, all of us grieving deeply for our painful loss. And at that moment the Lord somehow grabbed my attention. It was as if he was surgically probing my heart, as if He was asking me a piercing question: “Am I enough for you?” The thought penetrated to the core of my teenage soul; it was the first real test of my newly emergent faith. And there under the giant sequoia trees, with my cheeks still stained from the tears of dashed hopes, I looked up and said, “Yes, Lord. No matter what happens in my life, You are all I need. Just knowing You is enough…. YOU are enough for me.”

That was a seminal moment for me. Quite literally, in fact: my life pivoted onto a new trajectory that day. (It just so happened that on that very day, in a seemingly unrelated turn of events, I won a one-year, full-ride scholarship to Multnomah School of the Bible, which catapulted me into an even more revolutionary spiritual adventure… but that’s another story). That afternoon in the Sierra Nevada mountains I gained something far more valuable than a trophy… more valuable than even a Vince Lombardi trophy. It was a formative lesson that I have had to learn and re-learn many times over the years, but it all started with a simple question from the Lord in the wake of a crushing defeat:

“Am I enough for you?”

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Running in the Dark

running in dark I’ve taken on a new assignment at work recently. A big one. Biggest one yet (at least for me). I volunteered for it — knowing that it was going to be hard — because I felt so strongly that it needed to be done, and because it was an opportunity to dramatically improve the lives and workloads of my entire team. Problem is, I know that it is significantly beyond my personal skill set. I find myself reminding the Lord regularly that if He doesn’t sovereignly intervene and make this happen, I will almost certainly fail.

So anyways. I was out jogging before sunrise the other day. 10th street is all ripped up due to some scheduled road construction. The asphalt has been scraped off down to the dirt, so now it is just a bare path with no streetlights. As I first entered that part of the road, I could see it fairly well, despite the pre-dawn darkness. Light from the nearby neighborhood dimly illuminated the road — enough to tell that it was freshly-graded and lightly graveled. I could tell that it was flat and smooth and safe to jog on, without any ankle-wrenching ruts or holes.

However, 50 yards further on and over the hill, and suddenly I was plunged into utter blackness. I couldn’t even see my feet anymore, let alone the ground. If you have ever run on a dirt road in inky dark, you know how un-nerving it can be. You become hyper-attuned to every footfall not knowing what to expect. I could feel my heart-rate accelerate and my nerves tighten. I considered slowing my gait down to a safer walking speed, but I guess I’m kinda stubborn and I really didn’t want to change my pace.

So after a moment’s thought, I reassured myself with the logic that the crew that carved the road where I could see it, was the same crew that carved it here where I couldn’t see it. Suddenly I felt confident that the same equipment and skill that had smoothed the road so carefully at the visible end would have been used right on over the hill. And so I continued jogging with renewed confidence… and I wasn’t disappointed; the road-crew’s craftsmanship proved trustworthy indeed.

It was about then that the Lord seemed to whisper to me and say, “So. I understand you are a little worried about your assignment at work. You feel like you are in way over your head and you can’t see what’s around the corner, or even where to place your next step. Perhaps you feel like you are running in the dark?”

As soon as the words crossed my mind, I gazed up at the stars with a huge grin and said, “Thank You, Lord. I get it.” Because suddenly I knew that the same God Who had so skillfully smoothed the road to get me this far in my job, could be fully counted on all the way to the road’s end. I’m learning that faith means abandoning yourself in the dark to the One Who has proven Himself trustworthy in the light. I have seen His handiwork clearly, back on the bright part of the road; there’s no reason to slacken my pace now.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, . . . because
He. will. make. your. paths. smooth.”
         (Proverbs 3:5-6; my translation)

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Dad’s workshop

Dad's workbenchWhen I was a child, my dad had an awesome workshop out in our garage. It wasn’t huge, it wasn’t organized, it wasn’t clean or well-lit, it was just super cool. I loved exploring through the little tiny drawers filled with do-dads and whozits and what-nots from a bye-gone era. But what I loved most was when my dad was at work on one of his projects, and I got to stand at his side and just watch. Those of you who knew my dad know that he never got ruffled, never cussed when the hammer slipped, never lost his temper when the little ragamuffin got in his way. He never said much of anything, as I recall; he just worked quietly and peacefully and let the work speak for itself. I miss those days. And I enjoy trying to recreate some of those moments with my own children. Working together with a little child who can’t “really” help — but who really wants to —  that’s just one of life’s most special privileges.

That’s the picture that came to my mind this morning while I was jogging. I’ve been praying while I jog lately — for my family, for my friends, for my Sunday School 1st graders, etc. God has been challenging me to stretch myself into more meaningful and passionate intercession for the loved ones in my life, both near and far. I love to get out into the orchards or fields where I can pray out loud and gesticulate emphatically and not worry too much about any onlookers who might question my mental stability.

So as I was praying today, it occurred to me that intercession is like knocking on the door of God’s Workshop; like being invited in by a smiling Father who is genuinely pleased to have me join Him; like watching Him work at His ancient workbench, sawdust at our feet. It is like having the grand privilege of getting a little glimpse into what the Lord Himself is doing in the lives of my loved ones. But best of all, it is like working with Him, side-by-side, ragamuffin with Master Craftsman, not just observing but actually contributing my own thoughts and suggestions, and watching in awe and wonder as He actually chooses to use my meager prayers, weaving them into His own work, and in so doing, weaving more of His heart and compassion into my life as well. My prayers get incorporated into the lives of my friends and family, while God’s character gets woven more deeply into my soul. Astounding.

And the realization that He enjoys my company in His workshop as much as I enjoy Trevor in mine — well that’s just amazingly cool.

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Planting Seeds in Public Forums

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From time to time, I enjoy reading the articles on NPR.org, including the comment threads. These threads are most often dominated by very liberal-leaning pundits (as well as a few ultra-conservative wackos who unfortunately give conservatism a bad name, in my opinion). Usually I read the comments with mild amusement and without response, but sometimes I just can’t help myself. So occasionally I try to plant seeds — respectful, thoughtful observations from a Christian’s (or, at least, Theist’s) viewpoint. I like to think that they might somehow be useful in some distant reader’s spiritual journey. At least, I expect, it couldn’t hurt. So anyways, here’s the wry comment (from an article about the possibility of extra-terrestrial life) that prompted me to chime in:

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And here was my (typically over-long) response:


I’ll admit it: I am a creationist. Not because of science, mind you; nor yet *in spite* of science (as Science has never claimed to DISPROVE creationism by any account; nor could it). I simply CHOOSE to believe in a Creator, just as you choose to believe in his absence. We each have our reasons (both philosophical and historical), and — if we had the time to discuss them — we would likely find that most of our reasonings are, for the most part, fairly self-consistent and… well, reasonable. Where we diverge is not so much in our conclusions, but in our foundational presuppositions — which are always outside the realm of “proof” anyway.

I believe in God because I know Him. Just as my dog believes in me. (Although I suspect my cat doesn’t.) My dog can’t prove me. Such proof, if it exists, would exceed his intellectual capacity. But he is at peace in his simple belief, as am I. Clearly, this line of thought is not persuasive to anyone who has begun with a different presupposition; I certainly don’t intend it to be. But my faith satisfies MY intellectual and emotional yearnings and makes me, I think, a better person. (Not a better person than YOU, of course; just a better person than I would be otherwise).

I say all this just to remind you (in the most respectful way I know), that despite the implication of your witty comment (which did make me chuckle, by the way), creationism isn’t, in itself, ANTI-intellectual. We simply believe that not everything that is knowable can be known by mere deductive logic from first principals. If you have been happily married for very long, you might concede that this rings true (with regard to “knowing” your spouse, that is).

Hope you don’t think I’m trolling. Your comment just got me thinking, so I decided to share. I guess I’m rambling now. So I’ll stop.

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