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Writiings of Dave Gibson

Dave "Hoot" Gibson

Dave is the Senior Pastor of Cypress Bible Church in Cypress, Texas.  This column is published weekly and is designed to motivate both corporate and personal life transformation, to help us look more like Christ.

“Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.”

Jesus

 I made a bracelet for myself out of fishing swivels and I wear it 24/7.  I am sure you are thinking, “Very classy Dave!”   Yes, I agree, it is very classy.  The swivels have started to rust from wearing it when I mow my lawn and sweating all over it.  But I love it.

The bracelet is a daily reminder to me of Jesus’ promise to make a fisher of men out of me.  If I say that I am His follower one of the things that will be true of me is that I am becoming a fisher of men.  To greater and greater degrees in my life I will care about lost people and will take initiative to share the Gospel with them.

To be a follower of Jesus is to be a learner from Him.  Clearly Jesus was a great Fisher of men and to learn from Him in that area will certainly result in improved fishing ability in me.

When a person first starts fly fishing they are horrible at it.  They get their line caught in the trees or bushes or people standing behind them.  They don’t let their fly drift properly.  They don’t tie on the right fly.  They get their line in a knot by poor casting.  They are unable to read the water.  They cannot put the fly where they want to put the fly.  They are just horrible and it is very frustrating.  They are great at scaring fish away and horrible at coaxing them to bite.  I am very experienced at this stage of fly fishing.

But as a person practices and gets some coaching and sticks with it they can become quite an accomplished fly fisherperson.

When we first start fishing we are not good at it—we may even be horrible at it.  We are great at scaring fish away and horrible at getting them to bite.

In Matthew 28:19, 20 Jesus explains the overarching principles of fishing for men.  The elements are simple in some ways but very profound in other ways:

  • Authority:  Jesus has the right to tell us to do this and we have the right to do this and we are under orders to do this.  Authority means being commanded.  This is not optional for us.  Fishers of men are under authority, under orders.

 

  • Go:  A core part about fishing for men and making disciples is going.  Generally speaking a lost person will not come across the street to hear about Jesus.  It is our mandate to go across the street and engage our neighbor, to go across the cultural barriers to engage others, and to go across the ocean to engage others.  Fishers of men are goers.

 

  • Make disciples:  In cooperation with the Holy Spirit turn men and woman, boys and girls into thoroughgoing followers of Jesus.  The “end product” of evangelism is not a saved person but a discipled person.  Fishers of men strive to make men into serious followers of Jesus.

 

  • Of all the peoples:  Not some but all.  Engage every individual and every people group.  Do not judge who might respond or who might be in need.  Do not weed anyone out.  Just give the Gospel to all and let the Holy Spirit worry about them from there on.  Fishers of men engage everyone.

 

  • Baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit:  Baptism is an act of complete identification with Jesus.  It is not important to salvation but it is vitally important to discipleship.  Jesus places it as the first step after trusting in Christ.  It is a galvanizing of our trust in Christ and our identity in Christ and our identity to follow Christ from here on out.  Fishers of men have been baptized and also baptize others.

 

  • Teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded you:  Teach them to observe or to do.  Teach them to obey.  This is beyond knowledge to obedience, being a continual “doer of the Word.”  Teach them to do everything Jesus commanded.  Do not pick and choose.  Just do it all.  Fishers of men are obedient to all Jesus’ commands and they are also teachers of men to obey.

 

  • I am with you always:  When you are involved in Great Commission activity Jesus is always with you.  Now to be sure He is with you always whether you are doing Great Commission work or wandering in the ditch of personal pleasure and promotion.  However, Jesus gives the gift of His presence and peace and enabling in a special way when you are doing Great Commission work.  Jesus has walked with countless people as they have gone across the street to engage their neighbor for Christ or gone across the ocean to engage a tribal person for Christ or stood before a firing squad for having engaged others for
    Christ.  Jesus presence is more important than my safety.  Fishers of men are constantly aware of Jesus’ presence and taking courage in His presence.

 

I want to be a better follower of Jesus by being a better fisher of men.  I don’t want to spend all my fishing time climbing up into trees attempting to save my expensive fly.  And, I don’t have to.  I can get better at this.  This is important.

“I have not become the person that God envisioned when He rescued me.”
Dave Gibson

Decades ago I worked with a young man on a fire fighting crew who was wild and then some. We worked at a wilderness fire station that was 10 miles from the nearest road and 25 air miles from Tucson, Arizona—at the top of Mica Mountain. One afternoon this young man left work early, hiked 10 miles down to the trailhead, caught a ride into Tucson, went to a Rolling Stones concert, drank, partied, smoked everything that was handed to him, caught a ride to the trailhead, hiked back up on top of Mica Mountain without sleeping, showed up at the spot where he was supposed to be building hiking trails, and slept under a poncho for 10 hours—passed out on the forest floor and dead to the world. We woke him up and hiked back to the bunkhouse and he passed out for another 10 hours.

Today this man is a very respected, accomplished, and responsible man in the US Forest Service. In the intervening years he was transformed. He became a different person.

God is determined to make me like His Son. Since I am not yet like His Son I need to be transformed.

I believe that transformation is of major importance to God and therefore should be to us. I believe that God values transformation to a degree that we do not fathom—not even close.

God is mostly working on the transformation of our relationship with Him and the transformation of our character. But He is also working on the transformation of our cultures and our institutions and our relationships and our nations and our very planet (which is trapped in the bondage of sin.)

God is so committed to transformation and we are often committed to getting, having, doing, imaging and experiencing. Evelyn Underhill in The Spiritual Life said:

“We mostly spend those lives conjugating three verbs: to Want, to Have, and to Do. Craving, clutching, and fussing, on the material, political, social, emotional, intellectual—even on the religious—plane, we are kept in perpetual unrest: forgetting that none of these verbs have any ultimate significance, except so far as they are transcended by and included in, the fundamental verb, to Be: and that Being, not wanting, having and doing, is the essence of a spiritual life.”

Being is the essence of a spiritual life and being like Jesus is paramount in the spiritual life. Therefore transforming is an indispensible process in the spiritual life.

I am not yet being the person God envisioned. Therefore I must be transforming. But am I being transformed? Am I submitting myself to transformation? Am I taking initiative to catalyze and nurture my own transformation? Do I even value transformation or have I gotten seduced by wanting, having, and doing?

Please give this question some reflection and prayer: “Am I actively transforming?”

One year I ran in “The Turkey Trot” on Thanksgiving Day in Dallas. It was an 8 mile run with about 3,000 competitors on the day that I ran. I ran with a friend and we had agreed to stay together throughout the race. He was about ten years older than me and not in as good of shape as me. We ran together for about 4 miles. He was going much slower than I could have gone but I stayed with him. I was coasting. Finally he said, “Dave I am tired and need to slow down. You go ahead.”

So, I began to run faster—and I am no one’s idea of a speed merchant. However, I was pretty fresh and I began to pass runners. I felt like a super star. I passed bus-loads of people.

The race ended by running down a bridge ramp which was about 4 lanes wide. At the bottom of the bridge you ran through the finish booths where they clocked your time and gave you your position. As I was running down the bridge toward the finish line there was a group of about 20 or more friends who had agreed to finish together. They had joined hands in a long line that blocked most of the four lanes.

They were quite a distance ahead of me but I thought, “Maybe I could catch them.” I began to sprint and went around the right end of their human chain and finished the race about 3 seconds before those 20 people.

It felt so good! Never mind that I finished about number 1,400 and the winner of the race was probably already home eating turkey. It was my only official foot race ever and it was a great experience.

The metaphor of “life as a race” has been used often in secular writing and in spiritual writing—the Bible for example. It is such a popular metaphor because, well, life is a race. (Profound Dave!)

Running a race, and living our lives, includes starting well, running smart, dealing with challenges along the course, stamina, perseverance, jump starting when we have been coasting, re-directing when we have gotten off course, and finishing well.

In VBS this week we are working on the theme of “The Amazing Race”—teaching the children about Jesus and His commands through this metaphor.

I have been thinking a lot recently about how I am running at this stage in my own race. I have been asking myself if I have been faithful and run well. I am wondering if I am on course. I am thinking a lot about stamina and finishing well.

I want to ask you to consider one more aspect of the “life as a race” metaphor. The aspect is this: Is the life race a marathon or is it a “sprint/rest, sprint/rest, sprint/rest, …” kind of race?

I have heard 8 dozen people say, “Life is a marathon and you need to run like a marathon runner—steady and strong.”

A few years ago someone said to me, “I think life is more of a “sprint/rest, sprint/rest, sprint/rest …” kind of race. As I have thought about this idea it seems this person was right. I think the race of life, at least as I have experienced it, is a sprint/rest experience.

Sometimes we need to sprint and we simply have no choice about that. Sometimes we have the opportunity to rest. I am in a sprint mode right now. I have a couple weeks of rest mode coming.

The trick to running skillfully in the race of life is to sprint well when you need to sprint and to rest well when you can rest. There are several ways to fail in the race. We can only sprint—and we’ll get exhausted. We can sprint poorly—and we won’t get anywhere. We can rest poorly or not at all—and we’ll get exhausted. We can rest all the time—and we won’t get anywhere.

(In all this I am of course only addressing the “human side” of the Divine/human cooperation in the Christian life. There is not only running but there is also depending on God.)

Would you give some reflection on your own life in the sprint/rest model? How are you sprinting and how are you resting? The people who get really good at the sprint/rest practice of running are the ones who get somewhere and who can run this race for a long, long time.

Dear God, I will make you a deal. I will trade 5 decades of my life for a BMW, a lake house, and five-day-a-week golf. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Or…

Dear God, I will make you a deal. I will trade every decade of my life for a few more people worshiping Jesus in eternity. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

“The great law of the spiritual life is asking.”

Dallas Willard

 “You have not because you ask not.”

James 4:2

“Whatever you ask of Me in My name I will do it.”

Jesus

 “I am going to spend the rest of my life asking people to give themselves and their resources to Jesus Christ.”

Steve Shadrach

 Ever been on a flight and had the guy next to you ask if he could have the whole can of Coke?  Sometimes the flight attendant says “yes” and sometimes “no.”  Many times the answer is “yes” and the guy gets the whole can.  Why did he get the whole can?  Because he asked.  You didn’t get a whole can.  Why?  Because you didn’t ask.

 Asking is such an interesting, sometimes thrilling, sometimes boring, and sometimes frightening activity.  If, as a 9 year-old, you have ever walked up to the door of a stranger to ask them to buy Girl Scout cookies you have probably known the fear of asking.  If you have ever asked a girl to marry you then you have probably known the thrill of asking.  If you have ever worked the drive up window at McDonalds and have asked, “May I take your order?” 11.3 billion times then you have experienced the boredom of asking.

 Asking can be thrilling, boring, or frightening.  But asking is also very important—it is a spiritually brilliant activity. 

 First, asking is spiritually brilliant because it opens the possibility of the direct work of the God of the universe.  The most powerful Being Who could possibly exist is willing to respond to your asking.  Sometimes He will say “Yes” and sometimes He will say “No.”  But you are invited to ask God to work in specific ways!  Please think about that.  What if you had a private phone line to Bill Gates and you could call him at any time of the day or night and ask for money?  He might say no and he might say yes.  But, would that excite you?  What if you had a private phone line to the Almighty God of eternity and you could call Him any time of the day or night and ask Him to work?  Would that excite you?  I wonder if we have been faithful to ask God to work.

 Second, asking is spiritually brilliant because it opens the possibility of a positive response from people who have resources to give—time, money, service, expertise, things, opportunities, networks, forgiveness, and much more.  I wonder how many resources we have left untapped for the cause of Christ and for meeting personal needs because we have failed to ask.  I wonder how many times in our lives we have needed something and been unwilling to humble ourselves, take a risk, and ask.

 

 I know a man who was in full-time ministry and needed some financial help.  He began asking for help and one thing he did was to go to his dentist and asked for free dental care for himself and his whole family.  Now you may be thinking, “How presumptuous!”  or “I would never do that!”  or “What an arrogant person!”  The dentist, absolutely un-offended said, “I won’t do that but I will give you personally free dental care.”  The man gets free dental care to this day.  Why?  Because he asked.

 The brilliant hockey player Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”  Could I adopt that and say, “The answer is “no” to 100% of the requests you don’t make.”

 I don’t have free dental care—but then again I never asked.  I don’t usually get the whole can of Coke—but then again I rarely ask. 

 I am pretty sure that I am not asking God enough.  I am pretty sure I am not asking others enough.

 Please be clear about what I am NOT saying.  I am not saying ask for stuff to consume on yourself.  I am not saying to ask for stuff so that your own life will be easy and fun and full of leisure.  I am saying to ask for what you need and for what will enhance the Name and the cause of Christ.

 As Steve Shadrach said, “I am going to spend the rest of my life asking people to give themselves and their resources to Jesus Christ.”

 So am I.

Major league baseball has a couple of ugly twins whose names are “The Brush-Back Pitch” and “Charging the Mound.”  Here’s how they work.

 A new batter comes to the plate and he drives the first pitch about 410 feet into the upper deck of the outfield.  But it is not a home run because it is foul by just about 3 feet.  The pitcher is thinking to himself, “We cannot have that!  So, I’ll brush him back from the plate a little.” The next pitch is a fast ball – sometimes way inside, sometimes very fast. This is the “brush back” pitch and it is designed to warn the hitter about hitting home runs, to throw the hitter off balance and to “teach him a lesson” about getting hits off me!  (The brush-back pitch can be thrown for many other reasons and it can sometimes be upgraded to the full-blown “Bean-Ball.” The bean-ball is shot right at the ear-hole of the batter’s helmet as if he had a little bull’s eye painted there.  The bean-ball is more malicious than the brush-back pitch, though both can be very dangerous to the hitter and, ultimately, the pitcher.

 Back to our story.  In order to avoid being hit by the brush-back pitch, or the bean-ball, the batter must quickly jerk his entire body backwards, often flopping onto his back in the dirt with a body-jarring thud.  What comes next in the chain of events is often a tactic known as ”the charging of the mound.”  The hitter, angered by the pitch and hurt by the fall, jumps up, throws down his bat, and charges out to the pitcher’s mound to teach a lesson of his own.  From here the story line can go any number of directions including, but not limited to, a fist fight between the two angry players, a bench-clearing brawl involving both teams and both dugouts, ejections of various players from the game, fines, injuries to players, managers or umpires, and, in rare cases, fans joining the melee.

 There are some significant hazards to charging the mound.  You can get hurt.  You can get ejected from the game.  You can get fined.  You can look stupid.  I once saw future hall-of-famer Nolan Ryan throw a brush-back pitch to a hitter.  When the hitter had charged the mound, Ryan got him in a head-lock with his left arm and pounded on his head with his right fist.  This continued until cooler heads arrived and rectified the situation.  There are significant hazards to charging the mound.

 While most of us have never played professional baseball and most of us never will, nevertheless, we are given to ‘charging the mound” in our own settings.  I have, on rare occasions, “charged the mound” on my father, my friend, my fellow believers, and my wife.  As in major league baseball, I figured someone had done me an intentional and malicious wrong, and I was going out to the mound to retaliate.  This has often been very hazardous to me and those involved.  Sometimes just the two of us get hurt and other times both “benches clear” as my supporters and the other person’s allies join the battle.  I will leave these hazards to your imagination as my purpose here is to deal specifically with the hazards of one narrow type of “mound charging.”

 I confess that I have, on too many occasions, charged the mound on God Himself.  Believing that God had done me some great disservice – which is ludicrous – and also suspecting that God harbored some malice toward me – which is ludicrous – I charged the mound to retaliate, demand an explanation and extract from God the thing I was wanting – which was also ludicrous.  Anyone in the mound-charging mode is not thinking well, they are only feeling deeply.

 Before I tell you what I charged the mound on God about this most recent time, I want to say two other things.  First, on my last trip up the mound to get even with God, something profound happened to me.  It changed my whole perspective on mound charging.  Second, there are a myriad of reasons for which we as children of God, or for which unbelievers, can be motivated to charge the mound.  For their divorce or their spouse’s adultery.  Some for the death of a child or the loss of a business.  Some for the failure of an idea or the treachery of a friend.

 Mound charging is based on a contract approach to relationship with God.  We are usually not consciously and verbally honest about this contract approach.  But we usually have a quiet contract with God about how we expect things to go.  The thinking goes like this:  a) God sacrificed His Son to save me.  I am grateful for that and I will put my full trust in the work of Christ for my eternal salvation.  b) I will keep my nose clean for God and live for Him.  Let me qualify that. If not fully for Him as demanded by the radical discipleship of the New Testament, at least I will live for Him according to my definitions of what it reasonable.  c) God will ensure that certain minimum things happen for me so that my life is a “good life” as defined by me.

 These “minimum things” for delivering the good life will vary greatly from believer to believer.  However, they usually include things like: God will provide for us financially at a middle income level or better.  God will keep our children safe from drug use, sexual promiscuity, bad grades, inappropriate friends, severe illness, and injury.  God will keep our home and possessions safe from fire, flood, theft, vandalism and outdated, embarrassing décor.  God will keep us from severe relational alienation like divorce, family fights, and employment hostilities.  God will keep my work at least tolerably enjoyable and insure good benefits from my employer.  This list can go on and on.  Sadly, the list of minimum expectations for the good life seems to be escalating at an embarrassing rate with each new generation of Americans. 

 The problem with “contract relationship” is that, while only God signed the contract to save you, if you look carefully you will find that only we have signed the contract for a “good life.” God is a loving Father Who has zero commitment to giving any of His children the “good life” as I have just defined that life. God’s commitments in our lives are more eternal and more profound. He is committed to things like growth, maturity, Christ-likeness, servanthood, sojourning, impact, salvations, reconciliations, repentance, and justice.  (Do not confuse justice with equality or fairness.  Justice is right things while equality is equal things.  God is committed to right things while Americans are committed to equal things.)

 God has not signed our contract for a good life, He remains deeply committed to our maturity. He is willing to use events that violate our contract to accomplish His purposes.

 Divorce, unanswered prayer, the death of a child, illness and financial setback are all possible in our lives – not because God is malicious and unfaithful, but because God works through even sinful and brutal events to bring about our good. (Genesis 50:19-20)

 My last trip up the mound to teach God a lesson – ludicrous, I know – involved a ministry opportunity that He did not give to me.  It was an opportunity that I was expecting.  I figured it was in my “I’ve kept my nose clean” contract with Him.

 I have a very good friend who, like myself, is a pastor who speaks part- time for a nationwide ministry.  It takes him all over the nation three or four weekends a year to speak to crowds of up to 900 people and pays about $500 a weekend.  Travel.  Money.  Ministry impact.  Recognition.  One-upmanship on the other local pastors.  Resumé enhancement.  Where do I sign up?

 And sign up I did.  My friend, who was one of the superstars of this ministry, put in a good word for me.  I filled out the 19-page application, sent in the speaking tapes, went through the phone interviews, got the references to say I was great, wrote the doctrinal statement, showed them the master’s degree and the doctorate – in a word, I jumped through all the hoops with flying colors and with good form.  I am a shoe-in.  Done deal.  I can hardly wait.

 Their letter was short, polite, and to the point.  “We regret to inform you that we cannot use your services in our ministry at this time.  I read it three times in stunned silence. It was a blind-siding event. I was in full-blown disbelief.

 Then I was angry.  Severe understatement.  My disbelief metamorphasized into major anger, but not at the ministry or at the evaluators who had turned me down.  After all, they are only human.  “They made a mistake and as humans they are entitled to that,” I said in a fit of humility.  “How could they know my giftedness and the incredible asset I would have been to their ministry? I am sad for them at their loss, but they cannot be held accountable for their humanness and short-sightedness.

 I am angry at God.  He knows better!  How could He let this happen?  How could He be so malicious? How could He violate our contract?  I figured that God had thrown some “high heat” at my head and I was fully justified in charging the mound.  My family went to bed that night but I stayed up to have it out with God.  I made demands.  I asked “why.”  I argued.  I fumed.  I stormed.  I reasoned.  I circled back and did it all again.  I charged the mound to retaliate against God and get what I demanded.

 As I said earlier, on this most recent trip up the mound something profound happened to me. I was on my way to get even with God, charging up the mound and finding that it was higher and steeper than most of the pitcher’s mounds I had seen. Nevertheless, I charged on in my growing anger until I realized as I neared the top of the mound that, unlike other pitcher’s mounds, this one had an empty cross on top.

 I was charging Calvary, the very mound where God had forever answered the question, “Does God love me?”

 I had decided that God was a malicious, unfaithful, contract-breaker. Now I was face to face with the fact of His sacrifice. He had already demonstrated His towering and unshakable love for me in the gift of His Son.  In the crushing of His Son. He had answered once and for all the questions, “Does God love me?”, “Has God forgotten me?”, “Is God a mean-spirited, compassionless Father?”, “Is this latest set-back in my best interests?” He had forever annihilated the possibility of throwing a brush-back pitch at me, of having an ounce of malice toward me, or of being unfaithful in any way or in any time. He had forever dispelled the possibility of not loving me well.  He had completely and finally settled the question of His compassion for me.

 I don’t believe that God is threatened by my anger and my mound-charging. He does not disown me for it. He is mostly grieved by the short sightedness in me that motivates my mound-charging rage. Romans 8:32 explains it like this: “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” The gift of His Son means that all the rest is designed for my good.

 My purpose here is not to ridicule mound-charging or even to say, “Don’t do it.” We all do it from time to time in the course of living our lives in a sinful, unfriendly world. My purpose is simply to say two things. First, God is a Father but not a contractor. Second, whenever you charge the mound, look for the empty cross at the top. It can have a profound impact on your perspective.

“Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”

Jesus in Matthew 5:23, 24

 Let me tell you something that happened to you a few years back.  You had a carwash you just loved.  (Or maybe it was a grocery store or a hairstylist or mechanic or church or friend or coffee shop or a hundred other things or people.)  At this carwash of yours they treated you well.  They washed your car well.  They had fair prices.  They were fast and it didn’t take much of your day to get the car clean.  They gave you a fresh cup of coffee or a cold bottle of water.  The waiting room was clean and new and nice and they had Sports Center on the TV.  You just loved your carwash.  Then one day, maybe 2 to 5 years after you fell in love with your carwash, something happened.  Maybe they nicked the paint on your car or maybe they raised the prices a lot or maybe they got so popular it took forever to get your car cleaned or any one of 8 dozen other things.  You said to yourself and maybe to the manager, “I don’t like this place anymore.  I’m going somewhere else. This is not my carwash anymore.

 I don’t personally have a problem with this scenario because after all we live in a capitalistic society which is driven by competition.   So, go ahead and find a carwash that you like better.

 This carwash scenario is a consumer mentality and process with the following stages:  The Honeymoon Stage in which I love my carwash.  The Disillusionment Stage in which I don’t like my carwash anymore.  The Separation Stage in which I leave and find a new carwash to love. 

 The problem arises when we take the “you raised your prices and you are not my carwash” mentality to our church or to our marriage or to our relationships. That is when we will certainly dishonor God and certainly harm others.

 To review briefly, the consumer approach is this: 

  • I am enamored with you. 
  • I am disillusioned with you. 
  • I leave you. 

 

Pastor Steve Meeks of Calvary Community Church suggests a different set of relational choices for us as believers.  He traces out a four stage process of relationships and church life and it starts with the same two stages of the consumer approach. 

 This approach could be called the compassion/commitment approach to relationships:

  • I am enamored with you. 
  • I am disillusioned with you. 
  • I stick with you and work out our differences.
  • We enter into a deeper, more committed, more vibrant, more useful relationship.

 

 Pastor Meeks points out some very helpful truths about this four stage process of committed, compassionate Christian relationships.

 First, the Honeymoon Stage cannot last forever and the euphoria of this stage is bound to end.  Some marriages have lasted 58 years but no honeymoon ever lasted 58 years.  Given that we live in a fallen world and that we all possess sin natures it is simply impossible to live forever in the honeymoon stage.

 Second, the Disillusioned Stage arrives when the euphoria and bliss is gone due to some event or discovery.  This is really good because to be “disillusioned” is to be set free from your “illusions.”  To be disillusioned, which we normally take as a bad thing, is actually a good thing because we are brought into contact with reality and the illusions (falsehoods) that we believed have been dashed. 

 Third, we enter the Transformation Stage in which we engage with the person or the people with whom we have gotten alienated and we work it out.  Rather than running to a new marriage or a new church or a new friendship we hang in there together.  We talk through things.  We apologize.  We forgive.  We reset.  We affirm our commitment to each other.  We refuse to run.  This is the “leave your gift at the altar and go and be reconciled to your brother” stage.  It is harder and better than the “I am leaving” Stage of the consumer mentality.  And the “Transformation Stage” in with a person sticks it out and works it through is certainly “the road less traveled” in relationships in America today.  It is also the road less traveled in church attendance today.

 Fourth, for those relationships where people have stuck together and processed the hurts then begins the “Synergy Stage” or what Pastor Meeks calls the “Incarnation Stage.”  This is the stage in which our relationship has great synergy and joy and mutually positive impact.  This is the stage of a relationship in which we look the most like Jesus—God incarnated in the flesh.  This is the stage in which we love deeply and are loved deeply—despite being known well.  We become interdependent upon each other either as two individuals or as an entire church Body.  In this stage we look the most like the Trinity in our relationship health and commitment.

 If you have decided to leave your carwash I am not much concerned.  But if you have decided to leave your spouse or your church or a friendship—I am very concerned.  I am wondering if you understand the stages of committed, compassionate relationships.  I am wondering if you understand the reality that God did not leave you despite knowing you perfectly and despite finding that you are not the person you project yourself to be.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock…”  Jesus in Matthew 7:24

 “A successful performance at a moment of crisis rests largely and essentially upon the depths of a self, wisely and rigorously prepared in the totality of its being—mind and body.”  Unknown.

 Success in life depends, in broad terms, on both dependence upon God and exerting personal effort.  I cannot succeed spiritually without the working of God and He will not make me succeed spiritually without my exerting effort.  I cannot do it without Him and He will not do it without me.  Depending on God is paramount.  Today the focus on my thoughts is on the “exerting personal effort” piece of thriving in life. 

 Jesus performed perfectly at all His points of ambush and opportunity in major part because He had prepared perfectly before He came to these events.  In Matthew 7:24 Jesus compared the continual alignment of our lives with His Words to the wisdom of building a home on a solid foundation.  Jesus was operating from a solid foundation when He succeeded in His trials and temptations. 

 Writer Dallas Willard talks about the difference between “training and trying.”  All of us come to opportunities and to crisis.  Sometime we know they are coming and sometimes they overtake us in an ambush.  Willard says that how we do at these points will depend on whether we have trained for the moment or just come to the moment and determined to try real hard.  Suppose that two athletes of equal ability are entered in a pole vault meet.  One of them came well trained and the other came simply determined to try very hard. You know who will win. 

 Training for pole vaulting or for spiritual growth or for seizing opportunities that have not yet arrived is not generally glamorous or fun stuff.  It is often hard and usually unseen by anyone and occasionally very tedious.  Training for the pole vaulter involves hours of watching film and hours of lifting weights and hours of sprints and hours of practicing technique and hours of vaulting in front of a coach and hours of hard, often very tedious stuff.

 Training for spiritual maturity and for successful resistance to temptation is hard, disciplined, un-glamorous, unseen, application of myself to the Word of God and to prayer and to meditation and to responsiveness to my mentors and to diligent work.  If I am willing to enter this kind of training I will reap the fruit of this training.  I will come to the temptations and resist.  I will come to the opportunities and shine.  I will come to the attacks and not retaliate.  I will come to the threats and not be anxious.  I will come to the chances for impact and make a difference.

 The challenge is this:  If I want to be in a diligent, ongoing spiritual training program I will need to initiate it and I will need to be diligent in keeping it going.  The same is true for you.  No one else will mandate the program and no one else will initiate the program and no one else will maintain the program. 

 Too much of my own life has been trying real hard at the point of opportunity and too little of my own life has been training diligently in the day-in and day-out course of life.  I want to change that in my life.  I am tired of trying real hard at the points of temptation or trial or ambush or opportunity—and having mixed results.  I am tired of not being ready and trained.  I am spurred on by the view of what could be if I came to these events in life and was thoroughly ready to succeed.

Imagine yourself getting in your car to drive to lunch and meet a friend.  As you are climbing in you think to yourself, “I’m having a bad day.”

 Maybe your AC broke and it is 88 degrees in the house.  Or, maybe the boss rejected a major project you wanted.  Or, maybe the dog threw up on the carpet.  Or, maybe your son called from school and he was in trouble.  Or, maybe you failed a big physics test.  Or, maybe you heard a raccoon in the attic.  Or, maybe you smashed your finger in the car door.  Or, maybe three of these things happened.  “I’m having a bad day.”

 We have our “bad days” when things are going wrong.  Sometimes they are annoying things like the car won’t start and sometimes they are massive things like your sister was in a horrible car wreck.

 I find myself inordinately annoyed with the annoying things.  I give too much energy to the pull-start cord breaking on my mower.  It is a 1 on the annoyance scale and I make it a 7.  I pour emotional energy out on the ground—emotional energy that I cannot afford to waste.

 The annoying happening, broken mower rope or something else, is clearly hooking in to some inner anger or anxiety or pet peeve or lack of emotional energy or spiritual immaturity or several of these combined.

 I also find myself inordinately frightened with the massive things.  The horrible event like a sister clinging on to dear life is bad enough.  Then I respond to that reality with anxiety, fear, and anger and the horrible situation is made worse.  I have a gift for worst case scenarios.  Something bad can happen and I can take that event and move on to even worse things.  I can take almost any severe event and “worst case scenario” it. It almost always ends with me living under a bridge without family or friends and being terribly sick.

 Sometimes I have a bad day because I take a little annoyance and make it into what my mother used to call a “Federal Case.”  (As in, “David it is nothing.  Don’t make a federal case out of it.”)

 Sometimes I have a bad day because I take a horrible event and make it worse and worse and worse until the entire universe is made of despair—both for time and eternity.

 Conclusion #1 is a conclusion that you and I have heard 907 times but permit me to remind us of it once more.  Our response to an annoyance or a horrible event is a major part of exacerbating the problem or of addressing the problem.  Responses make situations better or worse.  My choice!  Your choice!

 Conclusion #2 may be less well rehearsed in the Christian faith.  The only totally bad day that I can think of is this:  “Depart from Me for I never knew you.”

 “How’s your day going so far?”

What do you do when something goes away—something you wanted to keep?  A few years ago I read a book that helped me greatly in this question.  The book is called Transitions and the author is William Bridges.  The book is more than 30 years old but it addresses the stages of transitions so clearly that it is a timeless book.  How can you be skillful in navigating change? 

 Bridges says every transition has three phases—death, chaos and confusion, rebirth.

 Here are those three phases fleshed out a little more: 

  • Phase One: Death.  Simply put “something ends.”  Some of the endings are big and some are relatively little.  A pastor leaves.  A key friend becomes alienated.  A spouse dies.  A job is taken away.  A dream dies.  An application is denied.  A favorite car is wrecked.  Employment ends and retirement begins.  High school ends.  A beloved pet dies.  The empty nest phase of life starts.  There are probably hundreds of major transitions that could be listed here.  In each case something dies or ends or goes away or is lost.  Sometimes it is a small thing like a favorite shirt being ruined and sometimes it is a big thing like a family member dying or leaving.  But small or big something has ended.  The stage is characterized by grief, disappointment, anger, disbelief, and bargaining to get back the precious person or thing.

 

  • Phase Two:  Chaos and Confusion.  In this time immediately after something has ended—which may be days, months, or years depending on the situation—there is a time of chaos and confusion.  When we are in this phase we generally get anxious.  We cannot see the solution.  We are grieving whatever has ended and we are unsure of what is going to happen.  We look forward but there is no clear path forward and there is no hope on the horizon.  We cannot believe that there would be a replacement of that thing that has died.  In the case of something precious being gone—like a spouse or a child—there is the despair that the person could never be replaced because they are just too precious.  In the case of a spouse dying or leaving there is the fear that I will never have another spouse.  The end of this phase is uncertain and often it feels as if it will never end. 

 

  • Phase Three:  Rebirth.  This is the time when the void in life is filled or the need is met or the hope is fulfilled.  In the case of unemployment it would be getting a new job.  In the case of losing a spouse it would be getting remarried.  In the case of being rejected for a college it would be getting into another college.  In the case of having a contract rejected it would be getting a new contract signed.  If a pet died and new pet was gained.  The rebirth phase is not a time when a beloved person is “replaced.”  But it is a time when a void of some kind is filled and a need is met and joy is kindled by the new person or thing that is the rebirth. 

 

 What do you do in these phases?  I am sure that the answer to this simple question would fill a book.  Not having time to write a book—and not having the expertise to fill a book—just let me give a couple of key thoughts. 

  • What to do in Phase One when something has died:  Grieve well.  Let it hurt.  Do not say it doesn’t hurt.  Resist the temptation to self-medicate.  Draw close to God.  Draw close to the people who care about you.  Cry.  Give grace to the people who shower you with platitudes and syrupy poems.  Don’t make any life altering decisions. 

 

  •  What to do in Phase Two when chaos and confusion have ensued:  Trust in God.  Pray.  Ask for help in gaining perspective.  Stay connected to the people you love.  Fight the tendency to “worst case scenario” thinking.  Counsel with your advisors—people who care about you and have wisdom.  Discipline yourself to test the input of others—even though you are in confusion you must not get sloppy in your thinking.

 

  • What to do in Phase Three when the rebirth has happened:  Rejoice.  Give thanks to God and others.  Share your joy and your story.  Cultivate ongoing gratitude for all that you have.  Cherish the thing that has reborn.  Be a great steward of the thing that has now come into your life.  Love it well but hold it lightly.

 Death.  Chaos and confusion.  Rebirth.

 You may be in one of these phases with something little or something big.  The common denominator in every phase is, as our former pastor Joe Wall said:  “Stay close to the Shepherd.”

 Jesus loves us deeply and shepherds us well.  His love for us and His skill in shepherding us are not affected by the phase of transition that we happen to be personally experiencing right now.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever—when I am in Phase One and/or in Phase Two and/or Phase Three.

 “Stay close to the Shepherd.”