Saying it the way it is

In yesterday’s sermon, I was quite pointed with what I said. The title of the sermon was, “What’s a Successful Fishing Trip?” And the topic and theme was that actually being successful at fishing means actually catching fish. If no fish are caught, it has been unsuccessful. And if no fish were caught with certain methods and in certain locations, change up what is being done so that maybe you might catch fish.

The same is true for being “fishers of people.” If the methods used are not being successful, meaning actually having people respond to the gospel message and become followers of Jesus, then change whatever is necessary, even if that means some long-held preferences or traditions.

I and we don’t have the luxury of not dealing with reality and living in some perceived reality, even if the natural end of that reality is not good, and especially if that is the case.

Doing this is not being negative; it is being realistic. It is not being critical, it is giving words to the place we currently are in order to deal with it.

Admission is the first step to change. Sugar-coating reality is a diluted admission, at best, or a form of denial, at worst. Either way, doing so will not bring about change, for a full and honest admission of what is current reality and how we came to be at that place is necessary and required. Anything less will just not work.

Is having to admit to a difficult reality being reality hard? Yes, but the only way difficult reality changes is if things, such as actions and motivations, are changed, for if you don’t change the path on which you have walked, don’t be shocked when you end up at the same place.

And I, for one, don’t want to end up in the same place. I know what the end of that path is.

To learn, you must first unlearn

“The key to effective learning is what we must first unlearn.” – Graham Cooke

Graham then goes on to give both Paul and Peter as examples of the necessity of first unlearning what has been learned in the past. Paul went from being Threat #1 to followers of the Way to being its foremost apostle because he unlearned what he had been taught and was then taught through and by revelation by Christ Himself.

Peter had to unlearn that Gentiles did not need to first become converted Jews in order to become a follower of the way.

This has also been my experience. I have had to unlearn some things that I was taught theologically before I could go deeper into the truth of what Scripture was really saying. It was often the case that I was confronted with a different perspective and, after good study, I realized that what I had been taught was either wrong or deficient. I had to then throw out that old learning completely before I could truly learn the truth that was now presented to me.

And the joy of that process was that now I have gone deeper and am able to deeper still in the truth and reality of the Gospel and what occur in and through it, incredible things.

I have seen the error of the common approach and interpretation of passages like Romans 7 where that approach commonly purports that Paul is teaching that there is some type of internal spiritual warfare being waged inside the believer when he is saying nothing of the sort. (hint – the first 4 verses are crucial in truly understanding what Paul is saying to those who know the law about what it was like under the law and what it is like now for those who have been freed from the law.)

There are many followers of Christ who, as children, were taught religion with its rules and regulations and restrictions who need to unlearn this in order to learn that in the Spirit and life in the Spirit, there is true freedom.

So, what might you need to unlearn what you learned in and from your past so that you can move forward in learning something awesome?

Ever gone fishing?

Ever gone fishing?

How does one determine whether or not the fishing trip was successful? Well, whether or not s/he caught fish, of course!

What happens to a person fishing if the type of bait being used isn’t catching any fish but that person refuses to change bait because that person swears by this bait because it worked a previous time? That person goes home empty handed – no fish!

But the person who is willing to change bait or lures until one is found that is working that night with those fish will most likely be successful to some degree.

And we would find that person very smart because that person was not stubbornly beholden to only one type of bait, for that person knew that the type of bait or lure used was much less important than actually catching fish.

I remember as a teenager we would go out onto Lake Michigan to fish. We had many different types of lures. If we weren’t having any success with a certain lure, we’d listen to the marine radio because other people fishing would broadcast what type of lure was giving them success at catching fish. We would then change, often with good results.

Jesus told Peter and Andrew when He called them to be His disciples that He would make them “fishers of men/people.”

And every follower since, every congregation that ever came together, has the same job of being fishers of people.

Why then is it so often true that what is used in an attempt to be successful “fishers of people” is more important to so many than whether or not it actually works?

And if it isn’t working, yelling at those you are trying to “catch” or criticizing them for not responding to the attempt makes no more sense than someone in a boat, who is not catching fish, thinking that yelling at the water and the fish in it will start making the fish get caught.

What is a fisherman who catches no fish?

Imagine you fish for a living because it is the only means of living available to you. Nothing else is possible to make a living. And no safety net, such as welfare or the like, is available to you if you fail at fishing.

In this situation, what is a fisherman who catches no fish? Dead, that’s what.

No fish equals no income. No income means no means to buy food to live. No food means you won’t be alive for very long.

So, there is motivation to be successful at fishing, at catching fish. That means that if one thing doesn’t work to catch fish, you try something else because the method of catching fish is not nearly as important as the goal of actually catching fish. Your continued existence depends absolutely on catching fish no matter what.

Imagine you knew a fisherman who refused to change how s/he fished even though the method used didn’t catch any fish because that was the way s/he had been taught to fish. His/her attitude was, “It worked in the past so it must work now.”

Wouldn’t you think s/he crazy if s/he wasn’t willing to try something different when the old way was demonstrated to no longer work? I would think so.

Welcome to the way many followers of Christ approach the mission of building God’s kingdom. The way things have been done are more important than the mission itself. If the way things are done and organized (meaning preferences and styles and programs and efforts) are no longer drawing people into the kingdom, for many followers, that is not enough to warrant changing how things are done. That just demonstrates the reality that those followers place a higher value and priority on how things are done rather than on the mission itself.

Are there ways that probably shouldn’t be tried to accomplish the mission? Sure, but even the Apostle Paul, when commenting to the Philippian believers about those who were preaching the gospel solely and purely out of a desire to cause trouble for him, rejoiced when people were responding to the gospel even though impure motives were present.

Just because a change of method in finding success in the mission is necessary doesn’t mean that the former method was wrong. It only means that that former method was right for that prior time but not for today. Because all that matters is the mission and having success in that mission.

And just like that fisherman, who refused to change methods when the old ones no longer caught any fish, died, a congregation who refuses to change methods and forego preferences that no longer draw people in and connect them with God (the mission), will also die.

The thing that is important is the mission (which includes the message), not how that is accomplished.

And how would I respond if there is a refusal to change even though that method/means no longer is having any success?

Have a nice death.

Throw out the limitations

Want to read something shocking? Well, here it is – “God does not live in a box.” Shocking, right? God has no predetermined flight plan or process set in stone to which we can point and say, “This is how God operates here” or “This is what God does in this situation.” That’s why God can do things in surprising and totally unexpected ways.

It’s why God can choose…

  • to have a 90 year old woman give birth to the child promised to Abraham (Sarah).
  • to use a prostitute to save the two spies and include her in the lineage of Jesus (Rahab).
  • to have the “runt of the litter” be king of Israel (David).
  • an unwed teenage girl to carry and give birth to the Messiah (Mary)
  • a murderous enemy of His followers to be the foremost proponent and apostle of the gospel (Paul).

And just because Scripture ended when John put down his pen doesn’t mean that God stopped doing things like these. God is beyond creative and imaginative and some of the things He comes up with and the way He decides to do something are so far out there – so unexpected; so totally surprising.

And most followers say they believe this about God, yet by the way they approach different situations or an unswayed attitude about how something must be done, they reveal something much different.

I remember being in a conversation with someone a number of years ago. Something awesome was happening in a particular congregation in and through which God was being glorified and people were coming to Christ. This person was critical of what was occurring. So I asked, “Can God work in whatever way He chooses?” The response was, “Of course.” So I asked, “Then why can’t God work this way?” The answer? “Because God doesn’t work that way anymore!”

And in that last answer was the reality that this person did not really believe that God could work in any way He chose, even though s/he said differently. In reality, this person had placed boundaries on God’s creativity and on how God was supposed to do things, and anything outside of those boundaries was deemed not of God.

When this is the attitude, so much of what God does is missed. And so much blessing and provision and opportunities to experience incredible things are missed.

I believe this is why Jesus spoke of the importance for followers to have a faith like a child. A child often knows little or no bounds in imagination and creativity and what is possible. Just watch how young children play and their creativity and imagination.

Boundaries? We don’t need no stinkin’ boundaries!

So, get rid of the boundaries; open your mind to the limitless possibilities of how God can work. He is marvelous and the standard for creativity in that marvelousness. And every situation we encounter in life is just another opportunity for us to experience His incredible creativity and imagination.

And that brings incredible wonder to life.

Faith means only needing a promise to move forward

Over the last few days, the topic of faith has been on my mind and in my thoughts.

Hope is a very powerful thing. When I coached basketball, if we were up at halftime, I would tell my players in the locker room that they needed to bury the opponent in the 3rd quarter. Why would I tell them to do that? Because if the opponent was allowed to hang around and be somewhat close score-wise, the longer that occurred, the more hope it would have that it might actually be able to win. And the more hope, the harder it would play to make that possibility become a reality.

But if in the 3rd quarter that opponent was so buried in the score, it would have no hope of making a successful comeback in the 4th quarter. That opponent would seek to do its best, but it would lack an extra measure of strength because of the impossibility of winning the game.

That’s why hope is a very powerful weapon, and those who have it are powerful.

This is what the writer of Hebrews in the New Testament says in 10:38-11:2 (verse 38 is a quote from the prophet Habakkuk) – “‘But my righteous one shall live from/out of faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul will not delight in him.’ But we shall not be of those shrinking back unto ruin, but those of faith unto preservation of the soul. And faith is the giving of substance to things hoped for, and verification of things not seen. For in this the elders bore testimony.”

If I were to boil this all down to a single statement about what faith does, this is what it would say: “Faith means living and acting as if those things promised by God are already in existence even though there isn’t any empirical evidence substantiating it.”

From this, what is the key difference between people who live by faith and those who don’t? The need for empirical evidence. Those who do not live by faith doubt something is possible if no empirical evidence is at hand. Even when there is some on hand, any part of the journey forward beyond what the empirical evidence has shown, invites doubt.

But those who live by faith do not need empirical evidence in order to believe something is true, in order to move forward. It is enough that God has made the promise.

And here’s the thing about doubt – having doubt means being double-minded about something. It means wanting something to be true, but thinking that it may or may not happen because you cannot see the way forward.

And James, in his epistle, is very clear about what this person can expect from God – NOTHING.

So, if you say you believe you have received a promise from God and yet have doubt to some degree because you cannot see the way forward, then what must be called into question is how much you truly believe in that promise.

So, have you received a promise from God? Do you truly believe that? Then live like it is already reality even though you cannot see the way forward. And this is possible because God always comes through on His promises.

One last encouragement about this – don’t allow how you think it could or should happen limit the possibilities of how God will make it happen. God’s imagination is beyond comprehension, and, trust me, He is a very creative God.