Sunday, January 4, 2015

Tripping Over Ourselves

With my children off from school for another week of holidays, my home has turned into an obstacle course of toys, board games, crayons, and books taken out and just as quickly forgotten in favor of the next "fun" thing my trio has dreamed of doing.  Added to this chaos is my own packing away of all things Christmas while simultaneously replacing the tinsel and lights with Valentine hearts to hearken in the next season.

I stumble through this labyrinth with as much patience as a mother can muster, knowing that the only other option is beyond the front door where over seven sopping inches of rain has made the outdoors too swampy for much playtime.

My job is simple--to move aside the stumbling blocks, to make the path sufficiently clear so that no one (like me or their daddy) falls and breaks his neck.  

As we start a new year, this concept is ever before me as I examine my own life, seek to minister to others, and work to disciple my own children.  

What can I do for myself, my family, my friends, and even total strangers to make the path clear for Jesus in each individual life? 

John the Baptist had this same task. Matthew tells how John was "the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said, 'The voice of one crying in the wilderness, 'Make ready the way of the Lord, Make His paths straight!''"( Matt. 3:3).

His job was simple--to clear the stumbling blocks out of people's lives so their hearts were tender and ready for the message of salvation as only found through Jesus, the Messiah. And yet, despite its simplicity, the message hit home with others in such a way that John didn't need to seek an audience with which to share the gospel.  Instead, the audience came to him in droves: "Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins" (Matt. 3:5-6, italics).

Though his was a simple gospel of repentance, John's approach was unique for each person, the Holy Spirit that resided within giving him the words to reach each heart with an individual message, not some prepackaged witnessing plan.

As John the Baptist preached his message of repentance, Scripture records "the crowds asked him, 'What then shall we do?' And he answered them, 'Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.' Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, 'Teacher, what shall we do?' And he said to them, 'Collect no more than you are authorized to do.' Soldiers also asked him, 'And we, what shall we do?' And he said to them, 'Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.'" (Luke 3:10-14).

The crowds, the tax collectors, the soldiers--they all needed to remove the stumbling block of sin from their lives, but John was sensitive to each heart, understanding that while the message of repentance was a one-size-fits-all message, the words to communicate that message were different.

One good example of this using differing approaches came when John saw the religious leaders coming out to meet him.  He pulled no punches, calling them a "brood of vipers" and warning of the hell fires to come if they ignored his message, a tactic that was apparently appropriate for this situation but would have been too over the top for other witnessing opportunities: 

"But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, 'You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (Matt. 3:7-10).

John tailored his gospel message of repentance in a way best suited to help remove the particular stumbling block from that person's life, all while never changing or compromising the message, itself. 

Such an example should teach us that no matter how we want an easy plan, there is no cookie cutter way to share the same gospel with each person we come in contact with.  Sometimes it will take an in-your-face approach to bring about saving repentance.  And other times, the message of salvation may be communicated by the simple sharing of a meal with another.

Each sharing will require us to rely on the Holy Spirit for the right words to say, equipping us for the task just as was John.  In 2015, let us take courage in that fact and seek to clear the way for Jesus, working to remove the stumbling blocks of unrepentance so He can come into the hearts of those we around us.

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