Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Go and Find Them

Go and find them ere they perish,
Tell them of the Savior's love;
How He came to guide them safely
To the Father's home above.
Go and find them in their darkness,
Bound by chains of slavery;
Tell abroad the proclamation,
Jesus Christ can set them free.
Go and find them, hasten! hasten!
Time is fleeting fast away;
They are dying, lost and hopeless
While you linger day by day.

--Oswald J. Smith

A missionary couple sent this poem to me in their newsletter this month. It helps them remember why they have traveled so far to reach people who see a loving Father as a foreign concept. This poem reminds them--and may it remind us--that Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost. To save the lost thing, we must be actively searching for it, turning everything upside-down to find it. The woman swept her house clean looking for that lost coin. The shepherd combed the hills and valleys of the countryside in search of his lost sheep. The father stood outside the gates of his estate, watching for his rebellious son to return.

The lost will not be beating down our doors to hear the Good News. While some may recognize their hunger, they often find a temporary fix that doesn't cost as much as the Gospel. Drugs, alcohol, and other substitutes don't require an overhaul of the heart. God does. And it's likely that no one will seek a faith that demands so much of them. In fact, without His intervention, the Bible says that there is not one who seeks God.

Life is a vapor, and this world is a gas chamber. Sin has wafted into our lives, and it's choking the inhabitants of the earth. But this gas is odorless and invisible, undetectable by those whose conscience is prone to malfunction. Only those who have salvation can "go and find them ere they perish."

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Have We Lost the Vision?

It was a nice day, and I had no air conditioner in my car, so I had the windows down, and the wind whipped through my busted up Volvo station wagon as I made the trek from Albany to Columbus. As I flipped through the radio stations, I heard a deep, quavering drawl over the crackling airwaves.

"Sooooooooouls!" I heard the speaker yell. He brought to mind the typical Southern preacher, dressed in a suit, holding a handkerchief to wipe his brow of the sweat he dredged up by shouting fire-and-brimstone. He drew out the word as I had never heard before, and he panted in between breaths before continuing. "Have we lost the vision?!"

I usually get a kick out of listening to preachers. Those who are bold enough to tackle the airwaves are usually either shameless money grubbers or genuinely confident men of God. I figured this man was the former, and I have to confess that I was excited about finding the fallacies in his scriptural logic as he talked about the undeserved favor of God as if it were a ticket to unlimited favors from God. But to my surprise, the "vision" sentence turned out to be a the main point of the message rather than a sales pitch. And as I kept listening, what started as a cynical activity became one of the most convicting messages I'd heard in awhile.

I imagine this pastor as a little on the heavy side. I might have gotten this image from his rumbling voice, or the fact that it took him awhile to catch his breath between sentences. But it also might have been that three of his stories had to do with encounters with waitresses at restaurants like "The Sizzler." From his patterns of speech, I inferred that he was not a school-educated man, but he boasted a vast knowledge of King James scripture, which he quoted at will.

His greatest attribute was the feeling with which he delivered his very simple illustrations. During one encounter at the Sizzler, the waitress found out he was a pastor and began crying uncontrollably. On a different occasion another waitress began sharing her problems with him. In each instance, this pastor was convinced of a few things:

1. People's outward manifestations are only representative of what's going on inside them. People are walking souls, and there is an eternal part of us that lives on forever.

2. This eternal part of us has been marred by sin and beaten down by the world, and we have the remedy in Jesus to heal the brokenhearted.

His voice creaked and cracked, moving from throaty climax to deep, soft valley and back up again. My car radio finally went out of range, but the impact of that message lives on in my life. Whenever I begin to be selfish, thinking that the Christian life should be consumed by anything else besides recognizing souls and giving them the remedy for their condition, I hear that ghoulish voice haunting me through the static, reminding me of that which is eternally important.

Souls. Have you lost the vision?

Extreme Makeover: Heart Edition

I look up from intense concentration to see Katy's dad walk through the door, his eyes climbing the walls and ceiling, crawling over every inch of freshly painted wood paneling. I cringe as I wait for him to point out the imperfections in my work, but soon he just shakes his head, cracks a wry smile and says the same thing he says every time: "Man, it just looks so different in here."

It has become quite a joke for us as the job has worn on. I'm about 80 percent finished, and each time another piece of the puzzle is crossed off the list, I ask him how it looks. We both break into laughter because we know what he's going to say. He'll wax nostalgic about how he can't even remember what his office building used to look like, and we'll always wind up talking about how different this place looks.

Only three front offices and the men's bathroom remain untouched by my brush and roller. Inside those rooms is a reminder of how far we've come since I started this job a few months ago. Most of the walls are a hodge-podge of mismatched wood paneling, and some even mix it up with a combination of paneling and concrete block. But each time, after slathering on the primer, I begin to cover over the sins of past decorators with a glorious coat of Hotel Churchill Wheat. Uniformity emerges from the chaos, and it's true; memories of patched walls and mismatched colors fade into the past, to the point where you really can't remember what it used to look like.

I've been thinking about writing this post ever since Extreme Makeover: Home Edition started showing on ABC. It's an obvious fact that the network makes a lot of advertising dough as a result of its philanthropy, but I've always been impressed by how ABC never holds anything back. The extravagance of the show definitely lives up to its title. Not only does the construction team erect an entire new house in seven days, the network throws in a family vacation and usually drops some other perks like scholarship money or a new car, not to mention the specialized equipment in each gaudily done-up themed room, which will help the child in the career or hobby of their choice (as if 15-and-unders know exactly what they want to do with their lives).

Every time I watch the show, I get tears in my eyes. The families are overwhelmed by the sudden redemption of their homes. They can go from rickety shacks to veritable palaces practically overnight, and it's almost too much for the family to handle. I kept thinking that this is how it will be in heaven, when God reveals the mansion he has built for each one of us on the foundation of Christ, directly over the spot where the termite-infested, moth-rotted shanties of our sin used to stand.

But the show and my painting job point to a deeper truth than the one embodied in heavenly mansions. Wherever we have let water damage bow our construction, wherever we have used dark paneling to patch light, wherever we have tried to fix the hole in ourselves with something other than Him, God covers completely. In our weakness, there is an opportunity for God's goodness to paint over our insufficiency. When he's through with his masterpiece, let it be said of our redeemed hearts: Man, it looks so different in here. You can't even remember what it used to look like.