I want to talk about what I did the last couple of weeks. Some of you were around last year—I’d like to think that I have not lost any listeners, but I have gained a few. Although, I think that a few people who were around last year are not around anymore after the last four or five weeks of our conversation together. But that’s okay. Their loss, in one sense, because I think the things we do here are helpful no matter what your perspective. It will help sharpen your tools and help you to think better, even if you disagree.
In any event, if you recall this time last year—I returned from my week and a half fishing adventure in Wisconsin. This recent time was six days in northern Minnesota and then I went over to our place in northern Wisconsin. I spent some time with my mom in a cabin we have on a lake and did some fishing there—When I returned last time, things were pretty dismal for me. I talked about what I called “giving the truth but not the life” and the pace of my own life and the pace of the lives of Americans in general and Christians in particular as they imported much of American cultural values into Christianity and then deified them, made them part of the religious obligation to do more, read more, pray more, get better, better, better every year and reach for the stars, so to speak. I talked about how I thought that was destructive.
My time in Wisconsin allowed me to reflect on some of that partially because my health was deteriorating as a result of the stress in my own life. I can say with satisfaction that in the last year there have been a lot of changes in my own feelings and my own attitudes. This is just a quick update for those of you who were with us last year and may have listened intently, not just because this was going on in my life but because it was a mirror of what was happening in your own life and you really needed to be encouraged in this area. And I hope that you were.
I want to share with you now in brief that a lot of things have changed. I’m much more mellow than I was a year ago. I can’t really say that I don’t take things as seriously—I do—but things have changed. A lot of the stress, the negative stuff, is gone and my view of life is a little different. As you know, for a whole month last summer I watched no T.V. And then on the heels of that commitment of a month of fasting of T.V. I really haven’t picked up the T.V. habit since then. That’s really changed quite a bit of the stress levels in my life. And a lot of good things have happened. So just as a quick update for those of you who were around last year, I took some of the same exhortations that I gave last year to heart and I’m a different person this year. And I hope that you are too as you reflected on the pace of your own life, that maybe you imported some destructive values of our own culture into your Christian life and destroyed some of the rest that you might experience as a Christian. And that’s an important part of it even though I’m in somewhat of a high stress job—and I know many of you are as well—it doesn’t mean that we have to buy a whole value system that is ultimately destructive to our quality of relationship with God and also our productivity in this world. We don’t have to be better every year. We don’t have to do more every year. We don’t have to read more Bible every year than we did last year. We don’t have to pray more than we did last year. We don’t have to check off our list of things that are must-do’s in every Evangelical notebook because a lot of those things are simply not in the Bible and they’re destructive.
Anyway, I don’t want to get off on that. I just simply want to say that I’m in a different attitude this year, coming back from that time, than I was last year . And I want to reflect on two things that I had an opportunity to reflect on that may be helpful to you at this point in your life.
We end this show every time with the same ending, basically. In two and a half years I can honestly say that this ending has not become a rote exercise for me, but is actually coming from my heart. I encourage people not to be “afraid to stand up and be counted for what’s right and true and good.” That’s what I’m attempting to do here on the air. That’s what I want to model for you and I want to encourage you that you’re not the only ones in the battle; there are still thousands that have not bowed their knees to Baal. I am one of them and there are others with you as you attempt to stand for the Lord, as you purpose to stand for what is right and true and good even though it seems as if all those around you have abandoned that. My goal is to encourage you to stand with me and with many others for those high ideals. But in the process “give the world a piece of your mind,” of course, when you do that.
But what I want you to do in addition to that is to represent Jesus Christ, the Rulership, the Kingdom of God and to “go out and give ’em heaven.” We end with that phrase every week, “give ’em heaven.” And I’m concerned that his statement is not just a coy, trite, religious slogan or doesn’t become one of those things to you, but we actually have some substance in that statement.
What is it we’re about as Christians? What is it we’re doing? Are we just giving a piece of our mind, merely? Are we just talking about what we think? Are we concerned only about ideas?
Now I believe that there’s been a tremendous imbalance—and I talk about this—that the ideas have not been addressed enough. That’s why we have a show like this. I think it’s unique because much of Christian radio has abandoned that aspect of their responsibility: to love God with their mind and to influence the rest of culture with their thoughts because the battle is a battle for ideas more than anything else. Yes, it’s a spiritual battle, but it’s a battle for ideas. I think Christians have abandoned that to a great degree.
However, I’m speaking now to my audience and I have a feeling who my audience is more than a couple of years ago because you’ve been talking to me for the last two and a half years. And I think that one thing you and I have to remind ourselves of is that we are not just to present ideas but to present ourselves as living examples of what Christ is to this world. This is why I end by saying “give ’em heaven,” not just “give ’em a piece of your mind,” but “give ’em heaven” as well. That really relates to the day to day practical experiences of our lives. What are we doing moment to moment? What do people see us about? What are we about on a moment to moment basis, because frankly most of the time we aren’t engaged in discussions that allow us to give the world a piece of our minds about the critical issues of life. Instead, we are enmeshed in the critical issues of life living those things out.
I was in Minnesota for five days. I’ll just give you two illustrations and bring to a conclusion the point that I’m making. I really have two different things I want to reflect on if I have time before I get to your calls. The first thing has to do with giving them heaven. What does it mean to give people heaven?
I was at Ada Lake just of Brainerd, Minnesota—a great fishing area—and I’d hired a guide who turned out to be a Christian. We had great fellowship there for three days. But I was holed up in this little cottage on Lake Ada apart from those times that my guide came and picked me up and took me out on his fancy boat. Right next door to my cottage—here I was: single—a bachelor—with very few financial responsibilities, except for those things that pertain to me, and I had this whole cottage to myself. It was a two bedroom cottage (I couldn’t get a smaller one, it’s the way they come)—Right next door to me was another two bedroom cottage and in that cottage was a young family with three children and a mother and father. Tim and Brenda, the parents, were in their late twenties, the children, Amy, Heather and Cole: youngsters, fun, interesting, but poor. As a matter of fact, there were two other kids younger than they and they were left at home because they were too young to go camping.
Here’s a guy that was a machinist and they’d packed their whole family and trundled down the highway from Wausau, Michigan, six hours to this lake in the far north to have a little fishing vacation with the family. Frankly, it reminded me of the Koukl adventures when I was a kid and we had our five plus two and seven people piled into our car with everything hanging off the sides as we made our way up into northern Wisconsin for our little junkets in the summer.
What was interesting is that this family was an unassuming family, poor, and I knew they were poor because they’d go our fishing in this little twelve foot aluminum boat with a six-horse motor that they’d rented from the lodge. This was his one-week vacation that he’d saved up all year for to go out and splurge $200 for the cabin for a week early in the season so he gets the price break. He and his wife and three kids piled in with life preservers on and fishing poles dangling out from every side of the boat as they puttered out into the bay with the little six-horse motor where they could catch bluegill and skinny northern pike. They didn’t just catch these fish; they kept them and filleted them out—I mean fillets that looked like the size of a quarter on some of those things. These people were eating fish for breakfast and the rest they were freezing to take home for food.
I was struck deep in my heart by this. My heart went out to them. I’ll be honest, I didn’t dig deep down in my pockets and give them a bunch of money; I think that would have been insensitive. But I was moved by compassion by the state of this family and they were a gracious family. They were nice, they were pleasant, they were ordinary. They weren’t complaining and moaning because they were poor, they were making due with what they had trying to build a family in the process. Here were these young kids, they didn’t know they were poor. They were running in and out of the water, kicking balls around and tossing bones to the dog and talking up a storm and wanting to know why I let my fish go.
To be honest with you, the next day I caught a couple of decent northern pike, my guide and I filleted them out and I gave them to the family. I said, “Look it, I caught these, I normally would let them go. But you like them so why don’t you have these.” Northern pike are good eating fish, too. I spent time with the kids in my free time. I’d talk with them and pal around with them. I spent an evening talking with the folks just shooting the breeze telling them fishing stories and showing them some fishing tackle and how to use it. One time Tim and I went out on our own in my little boat and putted across the lake and I was going to show him a few things and he was just getting back into fishing. Well, I just caught one fish and he caught none so I didn’t show him a few things, but I told him a few things.
I want to tell you something about how I felt about the whole process. All of that was rather minor, my contribution, but it was something. What it amounted to was my attempt to give a little heaven to these people. When I left I had a lot of food I couldn’t take on the plane—it was a housekeeping cottage—I had more food than I could handle so I gave it to them. I said, “Look it, I can’t eat this, I’m going, so you guys take this,” and I gave it to them.
It was a delicious feeling in my heart, friends, to be able to do something minor, something small, something not even worth waving a flag about—and that isn’t my intention here. It’s just to point out that a big part of being a Christian is going beyond ourselves and reaching out and doing something for other people in a way that sometimes has nothing to do with the proclamation of the Gospel. Frankly, I don’t even think that I got an opportunity to share the Lord with these folks, though I looked for one.
I’m not the kind of person that will barge my way into a circumstance and say, “Well, talking about God,” which we weren’t talking about but we are now. I’m not saying that that’s wrong and I’ve done that on a few occasions, but it’s just not my style. I pray for an opening and I look for one and I move towards one and if God provides one, fine, and if He doesn’t I just move on.
But in this case I don’t even think I talked to them about Christianity, but this brings me back to what I mean when I say that we should give people heaven. In my view, and this is something that is really overlooked by many Christians, we think of Christianity: what is Christian activity? What do Christians do? They tell other people about Jesus.
I was on Dennis Prager’s show some time last year and a Christian person called in. Dennis asked him, “What’s the goal of your life?” He said, “To tell others about Jesus.” Dennis asked, “What then?” And he said, “When those people become Christians they tell others about Jesus.” Dennis asked, “What then?” He answered, “Then they tell people about Jesus.”
I understood where this person was coming from, but I think Dennis was making a good point. The point is that Christianity has got to be something more than a Christian Amway system where we just keep building more and more distributors and never sell any product. It’s got to have more substance to it and the substance is this: Jesus went about doing good to all men. He went out doing good deeds. It says in that famous verse about salvation by grace, Ephesians 2:8-10, it says that we are saved by grace through faith, not of ourselves, but by grace, a gift of God that no one should boast. Then the very next verse says “we were created by God for good works that we should walk in them.”
So what I mean when I say to give people heaven is that we should make it a priority in our life not to just get as many signatures on the dotted line of the fire insurance as possible. Part of the goal of our life is to do good. It’s to establish righteousness and justice. It’s treating people with respect. Why? So they’ll receive the Lord? That’s nice if they do, but that’s not why we do it. If we do that then we’re doing the kind of thing that I argue against frequently on this program, we’re treating people merely as means to ends, merely as fodder for the Gospel. I don’t think that’s entirely honoring to God. Certainly it’s honoring to God that people would come to Him and we would proclaim the Gospel but we aren’t to see people merely as Gospel fodder. We are to see people as valuable human beings whether they come to Jesus Christ or not.
Part of our responsibility in giving people heaven is just not telling them about Jesus. It’s treating them with respect, caring for them, doing good to them, doing acts of kindness. That doesn’t mean just saying “have a nice day.”
The Scriptures are replete with examples of this, with scriptures telling us to do this. Hebrews 10:24: we’re to stimulate one another to good deeds, not just to love but to good deeds. Jesus went around doing good. Paul encourages us to do good to all men, especially to the household of the faith.
What strikes me, my friends, and I’ll leave you with this thought, in our pursuit of happiness in this society—And that’s basically what we’re in. We’ve victimized by that. A society that says, “Pursue happiness, be fulfilled, be satisfied. That is the highest goal in life.” I think happiness is a pathetic goal in life, but that’s another topic—But in a society that says this, what happens is when we’re pursuing our own satisfaction, we’re often robbed of the joyful pain of sacrificing for someone else. Why do I say joyful pain? Because that’s what it is. It costs us something to sacrifice, it’s painful. But I want to tell you a secret. There is something delicious in the process of doing good to someone else, especially if it costs us something. David said, “I will not give the Lord that which costs me nothing.”
Part of what I have to ask myself as a growing Christian, as a developing human being, is am I paying a price for somebody else’s happiness, for somebody else’s fulfillment, for somebody else’s justice, for somebody else’s care? And if I’m not, I’m not only robbing them, I’m robbing myself. This is part of what makes human beings real and deep, and fulfilled and satisfied, and functional and human.
We may not be able to solve the problem of their lives—I couldn’t lift this poor family out of their poverty, and maybe they didn’t want to be lifted out of it, I don’t know. I don’t see poverty as a mark of shame, personally. I do see welfare as that, but I don’t see poverty as that—We may not be able to solve all their problems, but we can, as one of my friends mentioned last night, suspend their burden for a while, if only for a few moments. That’s worthwhile.
That was one thing that really impressed me. As a Christian my job isn’t just to defend the Gospel. We need to do that. We need to proclaim it. We need to defend it. But part of what it means to be a Christian is to “give them heaven.” That may be in little bits and doses, as you go through the day, in a way that is totally unconnected with the verbal proclamation of the Gospel, but it is part of the Good News: giving that goodness to people and doing acts of good deeds. Frankly, I don’t think there’s enough emphasis on that as Christians.
My point is that as you do that, you not only fulfill the broader commission to influence this world with our new natures, but we’re also doing something good for ourselves. We are fulfilling our humanness in the deepest and most profound sense, in the deep sense that Jesus was human. We are fulfilling our humanness. We are going beyond our selfishness and we’re sacrificing, we are experiencing some pain on behalf of someone else to experience the joyful pain of self-sacrifice.
At least that’s the way I see it.