Should The Kingdom Of Heaven Be Heard, Surely It Would Sound Like This…
“You will know as much of God, and only as much of God, as you are willing to put into practice.” – Eric Liddell
My wife, Jill, and I were thrilled to move into our first home on LeBron Avenue in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1995. It was a special season of life I’ll not soon forget. Life was so good. Christianity was better.
We joined a precious church fellowship, self-described by some members as being “on fire for Jesus.” On fire in the good sense, of course, meaning that the Christian excitement taking place inside the church was such that it could not be contained—rather, it continued to spread. If Christianity could be pictured, Eastwood Church was it.
As a newborn follower of Christ, I was perfectly content to learn and observe the teachings and tenets of the faith I’d never heard before. I felt no shame when approaching the Dollar Tree’s checkout counter to purchase my very first Bible; I chose an easy-to-understand children’s storybook Bible replete with cartoons and illustrations. I did recall how Jesus taught in that same vein—that to enter His Kingdom, childlike faith was required. That seemed like a good enough reason to me for buying a children’s Bible.
Shortly thereafter, I began telling every church member who would listen how much truth I was discovering in my storybook Bible. How thrilled I was to be learning so much. How “on fire for Jesus” it made me feel. Identical to Eastwood Church at large, the Christian excitement taking place inside me was such that it could not be contained—it, too, continued to spread. Knowing what I now know, given the chance to take it back at the time, I probably would. But regardless, it was too late; the cat was out of the bag and I would shortly be called upon to act.
If one could picture an ideal stage set for evangelism, this was it. Evidently, the church leadership saw what I didn’t, and they called upon me to act upon my growing faith by sharing it with others. The “nots” and “not yets” took root as I resolved to stay comfortably seated in the bleachers. “Maybe later,” I reasoned when they floated the suggestion, “but not now. After all, I’m quite happy for the time being to do nothing more than clap and cheer.”
Those avoidance tactics failed miserably. Like a momma bird easing her young out of the nest to live on their own, the more seasoned members of the church wasted little time nudging this very reluctant infant in the faith out into the real world. I found myself landing in my own back yard. Enter Dennis Villano.
Dennis was an exterminator living next door. His keen fascination in the world of bugs and how to control them was far greater than my own, but as much as he loved bugs, there was one passion of his that superseded all others, a passion where common ground between us existed: Alabama whitetail deer hunting.
Whenever the subject of whitetails came up, Dennis’ entire demeanor would change, and he would ever so predictably and methodically ease into what I referred to as “deep woods mode.” He would light up a Marlboro, his thick southern accent thickened and his head cocked downwards; deliberately I suppose, probably to add emphasis once he decided to lift it. Regardless of what was going on around us, Dennis never once broke character, not once. Our topic of conversation was at the moment very serious to him. Toward the end of one such conversation that, true to form, took place with each of us leaning on our respective side of the fence, I casually and with no forethought said I better get back to work to pay the dues on a new hunting club I had just joined an hour south of town. Justifying the cost of the dues to him, and to myself, if truth be told, I stated, “They are steep, yes, but worth every penny in light of the two trophy bucks taken off it last year.” And that was that, or so I thought.
A week or so later, we once again found ourselves leaning up against our respective sides of the fence. Ironically, and as only God could orchestrate in this, His Grand Symphony, the structure built for the purpose of separating, The Lord overrode by laying common ground. Dennis, just like a bird dog on point awaiting the signal to flush a covey of quail, clearly had something on his mind. It quickly became obvious he had lifted several direct quotes from the hunter’s handbook regarding “the ask.” The only way I knew was because I’d done the same thing in college; during one hunting season I became so desperate for invitations I committed entire sections of the handbook to memory.
Don’t bother trying to locate a hard copy of the hunter’s handbook; none exists in printed form. It’s an oral tradition shared around fire sources at camp houses throughout the country. It is a clear, concise and universally agreed-upon collection of outdoorsmanship do’s and don’ts. For example, if hunter A wanted hunter B to take him hunting, it would be a cardinal sin for A to ask, “Will you take me hunting?” That’s far too straightforward and equally desperate, neither of which is appropriate for real hunters. Casual is king when it comes to “the ask.” One must converse in a roundabout way, a cool manner, to avoid getting busted.
Dennis’ ask played out like this: “You see George, I’ve got this new 270 rifle and haven’t had a chance to shoot it or sight it in. We both know how awful it would be to wound a big buck. Disgusts me to even think. I’d sure like to zero my scope in some time soon. If you ever need a riding buddy for the trip down to your new club, just give me a shout.” According to the etiquette of the ask, Dennis’ indirect way of asking “will you take me hunting?,” was perfectly acceptable—only because it was indirect.
Then it hit me: An entire chapter entitled “Give ’em Heaven” is dedicated to sharing Jesus from a deer stand; the stand in place of the pulpit. I had heard many a man getting saved in the woods; creation directs one’s thoughts toward The Creator. Dennis threw out the line. I took the bait. Soon it would be game on.
At the time, I worked in pharmaceutical sales for Merck. On the appointed day, I had put on a luncheon for a group of family practice doctors and was running a few minutes late getting home. As I pulled into my driveway, Dennis was waiting, decked out in hunting gear from head to toe. It’s hard to imagine how any one human could wear so many articles of camo all at the same time. Somehow, Dennis pulled it off. As I rushed around the house collecting my gear, I noticed something peculiar—a sensation I hadn’t felt in years. I was actually jittery, like the butterflies I got public speaking in high school. Because I was in a hurry, I didn’t have time to figure out why, just that they were definitely there. I’d find out soon enough.
The farther we drove down the road and the closer we got to the hunting club, the more nervous I became. Since I had vowed to share Jesus before unlocking the club’s front gate, my time was running out. Prepped, prayed up and versed up, it was high time to let it flow. And flow it did, flowed south, that is, big time, and did so quickly. My spiel bombed something like this:
“Dennis, the Bible says we have this problem that makes us sin. I mean, we sin and that’s not my problem . . . Maybe it is our problem, I guess. It’s somebody’s problem. Check that! Anyway, there is a verse in Scripture that says, “all of us are like sheep, because sheep sin …” Wait a minute, sheep can’t sin. Anyway, Jesus loves me and that’s cool. I just thought I should share that …” With no sinkhole, tornado or natural disaster nearby to drive into, all I could muster was, “Would you prefer the Honey Hole stand or the one at Rattlesnake Ridge?”
This explains those pre-trip jitters. My prepped, prayed up and versed up “Gospel presentation” was a complete disaster from the get-go. Any other day I would have settled into my stand and pulled out my trusty Topical Memory System cards and started memorizing them, looking up ever so often to see the big one. But not that day. When looking back over my ministry and all the talks and presentations I’ve given over the years this was the worst by far. I can actually remember that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach of letting myself down, Dennis down, even God down. I was miserable.
My theology—my understanding of Who God is and how He operates—would become forever altered the following morning. Rather than politely knocking at the front door waiting to be invited in, Dennis plowed right into my den in what I thought was a panicked situation. His demeanor had been radically transformed—he actually looked physically different from the day before. An air of “lightness” had replaced the former load of “heaviness,” making it difficult to distinguish the shine emanating from him from the day’s first light just behind him.
“What’s wrong? Is everything okay?” I asked, to which he responded, “I’ve never been more okay in my entire life.”
He went on to explain with uncharacteristic eloquence how something wonderful had happened the night before, how he was now a changed man, how he had given his life to Jesus.
“After you shared your faith with me yesterday,” he continued, “I realized for the first time that if I were the only person on Earth, Jesus would have carried that cross just for me. Jesus loved me so much that He died not just for others . . . He died for me.”
Those words may be some of the sweetest sounds Earth ever heard; if Heaven could be spoken in human language, I’d imagine its refrain would sound the same. I was dumbfounded, not because of what Dennis said but because of what I did not say. Not once in my disastrous prepared up, prayed up and versed up “Gospel presentation” did I mention anything about Jesus carrying a cross just for him. I didn’t say anything close to it. And so I learned a lesson Paul espoused 2,000-plus years ago: “And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.” (1st Corinthians 2:1-5)
Do you realize what this means for you? It demonstrates how the Kingdom of God does not mandate you share your faith perfectly, but that you do share it and do so to the best of your ability.
What happens from that point forward is fittingly out of your hands. Rest assured, if the all-powerful God whom we serve can draw a straight line with a crooked stick, He can likewise draw to Himself whomever He pleases in spite of our deficiencies. No wonder Isaiah 55:11 says, “So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.” No wonder Romans 9:16 says, “it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.”
Janet Mefferd Today– 12 – 07 – 20 – Janet – Mefferd – Today – George Shamblin (Evangelism)
Christians are in a race toward heaven, with an eye toward attaining the prize of eternal life in Jesus Christ. But what do we owe to those who have raced before us, and are we doing all we can to keep passing the baton of faith to others? The Center for Executive Leadership’s George Shamblin joins me to talk about it and his book, “The Relay: Passing Along Your Faith in the Race to Save Christianity from Extinction.” That and more on Monday’s JANET MEFFERD TODAY.