We Are Strangers in a Strange Land

I grew up in a family that camped. My father was a pastor who got four weeks of vacation. We took all four weeks at once, camping the whole month of July, mostly in wooded forests next to lakes. We hauled a small Sunfish sailboat on top of our sagging station wagon.

Williamson Vacation 1968

Williamson Family Vacation, July 1968

Vacations were a young boy’s fantasy, filled with mysterious forests and stormy seas. Four weeks wasn’t enough. We carried our home wherever we went. It was often hot, sometimes cold, and occasionally rainy. The car always broke down. And I loved it.

I recently heard a quote from the Epistle to Diognetus that resurfaced all those old memories,

The difference between Christians and the rest of mankind is not a matter of nationality, language, or customs. Christians do not live apart in separate cities, speak any special dialect, nor practice any eccentric way of life… [They] conform to ordinary local usage in their clothing, diet, and other habits…

For them, any foreign country is a motherland, and any motherland is a foreign country.

Is It Ever Okay To Evangelize?

[To listen to a reading of this article, click here.]

I was at Panera waiting for a friend when I overheard a three-way conversation at the next table. I didn’t mean to listen, but they were loud and seemed unaware of others.

One person complained—just a little—of his spouse’s odd eccentricities; another found fault in a boss’s stupidity; and the last grumbled a bit at her grown child’s ingratitude. Just normal middle-class Americans griping at everyday discomforts.

Then the first told of a documentary he had seen on tribal peoples in the South American Rain Forests, people who had little to no contact with the rest of the world.

The threesome turned out to be Christians, and they wondered about the eternal future for such people. One asked, “If someone never heard the gospel, do they have any chance of heaven? Or is hell their only option?”

Another had just read a book which claimed that everyone is going to heaven. After all, if God really loves the world, wouldn’t he save the whole world? Everyone at the table seemed swayed by this argument (which I think is faulty), and everyone sighed in relief.

Then someone asked, “If God is going to bring everyone to heaven, why on earth would anyone spend any time trying to evangelize anyone?” They concluded there is no need, and frankly no reason.

They collectively breathed another sigh of relief. I too was relieved. Not because of Universal Salvation—which I don’t believe.

I was relieved that these three would never try to evangelize.

How Do We Face The Struggles Of Life?

Today didn’t go as planned. Not even close.

Our dog Puzzle didn’t eat a bite on Sunday. I woke up today (Monday) to find two large pools of diarrhea in the family room and a cowering dog in the kitchen. I called the vet. They had an opening in one hour. For the next forty-five minutes I scrubbed and scoured the cesspools in our carpet.

When I coaxed Puzzle to the car, I discovered a flat tire. I pumped it up and sped to the vet. I had missed the “window” and sat for an hour amidst yapping dogs and a shivering Puzzle. (He’s fine; he just ate something bad.)

I dropped Puzzle off at home, and I limped to the tire store. They said it would take twenty minutes. An hour and twenty minutes later they said a nail and punctured the sidewall and I needed a new tire. But it wasn’t in stock. I’d have to come back.

I rushed to Panera’s for a lunch appointment, but my friend didn’t show up. He texted, saying that he had a toothache and was dashing to the dentist for an emergency visit.

I hurried home only to discover that my website was down. Apparently there had been a “massive DDoS attack on GoDaddy.com” (whatever that means) which affected thousands of sites. Including mine.

While talking with technical support, my wife came home with a kidney stone episode, so I ended the call and ran out to buy her some painkillers.

By mid afternoon my friend had a pain in the mouth, my wife had a pain in the side, and my day had been a pain in the ____ (fill in the blank).

The Power of Remember

After the evil Witch is killed, in C. S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair, Pulddleglum catches one Earthman who explains what is happening with the rest of the Earthmen:

“About an hour ago we were all going about our work—her work, I should say—sad and silent, same as we’ve done any other day for years and years. Then there came a great crash and bang. As soon as they heard it, everyone says to himself, I haven’t had a song or a dance or let off a squib for a long time; why’s that? And everyone thinks to himself, why, I must have been enchanted.”

Under enchantment, the Earthmen could not remember who they were, and they were sad and silent, burdened, without song or dance (or even a squib!). G. K. Chesterton wrote, “We are all under the same mental calamity … We have all forgotten who we really are.”

There is power in the English word “remember” but the power is best illustrated by its opposite. The opposite of remember is not merely to Forget—that is the opposite of to Recall—the opposite of remember is to Dismember. This is why the Earthmen hadn’t sung or danced, and it is why we are without joy and hope. We’ve all been dismembered, cut off.

This is Satan’s most powerful weapon; he spews forth lies to dismember us—to cut us off—from God, from each other, and from who we really are. His enchantment keeps us from remembering. Satan lies to Eve saying, “God is holding out on you; God doesn’t have your best interest at heart.” She eats the forbidden fruit, and is cut off.

As we look to the New Year, many of us make resolutions for future behavior. Maybe we’ll eat less or pray more. And many of us—like me—have failed so many past resolutions that we ignore the annual opportunity—we simply don’t want one more failure on our record.

Why have we failed to keep so many past New Year’s resolutions? Is it because we don’t desire health? Of course not. It’s because we lack the power—the persistent motivation—to pursue these desires; we lack the joy and hope. We’ve been dismembered. Satan lies to us saying, “God is holding out on us, God doesn’t have our best interest at heart.” And we go elsewhere for comfort. We forget, we are cut off from, the truth that Christ is more than we can ask or imagine; he is all we need.

For New Year’s, may I suggest this year we decide … to Remember.

Growing in a heart-sense of His love

Over the past several months, Christ has been giving me a deep heart-sense of His love.

This heart-sense of His love is revolutionizing my life, my hopes, my dreams, and my service.

Okay, I’m not in seventh heaven—not even sixth heaven!—and I know there is a long journey ahead; but there is a confidence and assurance, and strength, in my heart of His love. And it is thrilling. I’m still the Sam I was yesterday, yet somehow, something has happened; and I’m different.

My blog this week is an MP3 of a talk I gave in November 2010.

Yes, it is a lot to listen to. It is 30 minutes, but I think it can help us sense the love of God on our hearts. That is worth a drive to K-mart and back.

(Please note: in the talk I get some names confused, I keep saying Rebekah instead of Rachael. Argh!! Please don’t be put off by my tongue-tied-ness. He has been working on my heart. Maybe next he’ll work on my public speaking.)

Press on this blue link to listen: A sense on the heart of Christ’s love

Wounds and Hope and Glory

Will our wounds plague us forever? We have all had wounds and trials and setbacks, and the best we usually expect is to neutralize them or to simply see them healed. Scripture promises much more. God turns the world upside down such that those events of our lives which appear to have had the most destruction will eventually bring the most glory and hope.

Instead of merely wishing for a return to the pre-wound status quo, we have a hope that these very wounds and setbacks will lead to an inconceivable glory. Who—but God—could conceive of a plan in which the darkest nights will lead to the brightest days?

Video length: 3 minutes 3 seconds

How can we get glory and significance?

Everyone we know is looking for glory, significance and meaning. We are not just casually looking but desperately striving. We rarely admit it, and we seldom see it in ourselves. But we see others ruthlessly pursuing careers, or relentlessly struggling to be the best parents, or hungrily pulling out all the stops in their ministry. We are looking for glory. But whatever glory we find never lasts. And we’re off on the eternal treadmill, racing for more.

How can we get a glory, significance and splendor that endures?

Video length: 3 minutes 39 seconds