gift on a bus

Something happened to me on June 30, 2014 that I’ve got to tell you about.

Making my way homeward from a weekend trip, I was on the shuttle bus that transports passengers from the Kansas City airport to the long-term parking lot. I had earned some free parking passes to the lot and had two more free parking passes than I needed for my own parking tab. Since the coupons happened to expire the next day, I decided I would try to give the two free passes to another passenger on my bus. All the passengers on my bus were going to my long-term lot, and all would be paying $7.00 a day for parking their cars. My coupons for two free days of parking represented a $14.00 value.

I wanted to give the free passes to someone who would truly appreciate the savings, so I was trying to figure out how to go about it. For those of you who know me, you know I’m limited in my abilities to communicate because of a vocal injury. Whatever I might say to the other passengers would have to be communicated via my notepad. How could I convey to the other bus passengers that I was wanting to give away two days’ worth of free parking passes?

Here’s what I decided to write on my pad: “Would you like to save $14 in parking fees?”

At a loss to know who to offer the passes to on the bus, I decided to just go with the passenger closest to me. Sitting on my left was a woman, perhaps around age 50. By her comportment she could pass for a university professor or legal professional. I was more interested in giving the passes to someone in a lesser station of life, but hey, she was the closest one to me and so she had first dibs. I held my notepad up to her view. She read my message and shook her head, “No.” She didn’t want to save $14 in parking fees.

Next closest to me was an older couple sitting immediately across from me, facing me. I’m guessing they were around 60 years old. He had the appearance of someone who is well established in life, and once again, they didn’t represent the profile I had in mind but hey, they were the next closest to me so they had second dibs on the passes. I held my notepad up to them; the man read my message and shook his head, “No.” He didn’t want to save $14 in parking fees either.

The next closest passenger was a young man further to my left. He appeared to me to be roughly 30 years old. He was standing in the aisle because the bus was very full and overloaded with passengers. I reached past the woman on my left and held my notepad up for this young man to read. He read my message and shook his head, “No.” He didn’t want to save $14 in parking fees.

Just past him, and sitting on the other side of the couple facing me, was another young man who appeared to be in his upper 20s. I now had to reach my pad past the three parties who had just told me no, in order to get my message within the view of this other passenger. The young man read my message and shook his head, “No.” Neither did he want to save $14 in parking fees.

I thought to myself, “This isn’t working. I am not going to be able to give these free parking passes away.” I had one final option. There was another passenger that I could reach with my notepad, and if she said no, then I would give up. She was sitting on the other side of the woman on my left. So I reached my arm behind the woman on my left, and stretching my arm out so that this other woman could read my note, I held it up to her view. I would guess that she was in her mid 20s. She read my message, her eyes lit up, she gave me a nice smile and nodded, “Yes.” So I reached into my shirt pocket, pulled out my two free parking passes, and immediately handed them to her.

I realized, of course, that all these passengers in my circle of view were watching the entire proceedings. When I turned back, after giving her the two passes, and checked the faces of the other parties who had declined my overtures, you would have thought that I did not exist. Not one of them would give me eye contact. They all stared ahead stoically into space, as though our little drama had not even happened.

I would pay to know what they were thinking. “I just passed up two free parking coupons.” Of course, we can all imagine why they might say no to such an overture. For starters, it’s unusual for someone to be communicating on a notepad. Furthermore, we’ve all been taught that nothing in life is free. There are always strings attached. They didn’t know what strings might be attached to my question, so they summarily declined.

But as it turned out, there were no strings attached. It was simply a gift. A stranger was offering a gift to other strangers.

The young woman who got the two passes happened to get off the bus at my stop. As we parted she called out to me, “Thanks again! Have a great night!”

As I drove away it occurred to me that this is how the Father offers His Gospel to us. He asks, “Would you like eternal life?” It’s a gift to strangers, offered without any gimmicks.

When I thought about those who had declined my offer, I was reminded of this verse: “Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, ‘It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles’” (Acts 13:46).

I hope you are not unworthy of accepting the Father’s offer of eternal life. It’s simply a gift. No gimmicks.


The Power of Story

They sat spellbound in the darkness, hardly breathing. A few were occasionally nibbling popcorn while most just stared. The screen had transported them into a new reality. Left behind was the ho-hum, the mundane, the everyday; they were swept up into a world of excitement, adventure, intrigue, and romance.

They had entered the theater as individuals with impassive expressions. But now they were one, a group that swayed and played with the drama, faces open and eager. Anger, joy, love, hate, fear, excitement—a multitude of emotions were being shared together as the moviegoers became one with the screen. They laughed and cried as they went places never before traversed. Things were as they should be—wrongs were made right, evil was punished, justice was served, loyalty was rewarded, love was shared, the impossible was overcome.

They had come, not to escape from life but to experience it. Lifted above meaninglessness, they were now elevated into something higher, something for which their spirits yearned. Life was springing to new meaning in the safety of their seats.

Hollywood has captured the power of story.  Audiences identify with the movie, locate themselves in the story, and connect with its significance.  Those who write stories have the ability, through the power of their art, to shape the values and cultures of nations and generations.  I was reminded of this truth while applying recently for a tourist visa.  Invited to teach in a nation where Christians are often persecuted for their faith, I needed to apply for a visa in a manner that would not reveal the religious nature of my mission.  In the process of completing the application, I came to the line where I was supposed to list my occupation.  I knew instinctively that I should not indicate that I am a gospel preacher.  Author.  That seemed innocuous enough to me.  So that’s what I wrote down, and sent the application off to an American agency that helps with my visa applications.

A couple of days later, an agency rep called to say that if I put author on the application it would be declined automatically.  The government, they informed us, does not want authors or lawyers visiting their nation.

I thought author was a neutral occupation and was initially surprised to discover they perceived it as dangerous.  But upon reflection, it made sense.  Stories are catalytic, and can pose a threat to repressive governments that do not want people to think for themselves or to form politically incorrect beliefs.  Authors have the power, through story, to shape the ideologies and thinking of the land.

That exchange with the visa agency heightened my awareness of the power that resides in having a great story and sharing it with someone.

Long before Hollywood, Broadway and the New York Times Bestsellers List, Jesus understood the power of story.  We see this in the case where Jesus healed a demon-possessed man but then would not allow him  to follow Him in His travels.  Instead, Jesus told him to stay home and tell his friends what God had done for him (see Mark 5:1-20).  Even though the people of the region initially rejected Jesus, He knew their hearts would change through the power of this man’s story.

Jesus knew that this man’s story would bypass people’s defenses and win their hearts. In a similar way, God wants to use your story to win the hearts of others who might otherwise not be able to connect with their eternal destiny.

God rarely writes short stories. So don’t lose heart, even if the plot seems to grow long. God really knows how to write a good story—wait for it. When God’s purpose comes clear, you’ll have a story that will have the kind of power on it to move an entire generation. Even some whose first response was to reject Jesus will be gripped by the power of your story and be won to the wisdom of the righteous.


The Gospel is in the Gospels

When did the Gospel era officially launch? Where should we draw the line between the Old and New Covenants?

The answer to this question is immensely important. There are voices in the body of Christ that place the line in the wrong place, producing teachings that are very harmful to the body of Christ. Hence, this post. I am writing to identify where this line needs to be drawn, and why this is so important.

The line is drawn usually in one of two places: Either at the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry, or at the Day of Pentecost. The second option is the wrong answer. When some suggest that the Gospel era was not launched until the Day of Pentecost, they assign the life, ministry, and teachings of Jesus to the Old Covenant era. In so doing, the teachings of the Gospels get labelled as Old Covenant truths—truths which are not as compelling or binding upon believers as the truths in the epistles. Thus, the teachings of Christ are improperly assigned secondary weight or significance. This error is contributing to much false teaching in the body of Christ, both past and present.

There ought to be no question as to when the Gospel era began, for the Bible itself tells us clearly in two passages. First of all, Mark in his Gospel identifies “the beginning of the gospel” with the advent of John the Baptist’s ministry:

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the Prophets: “Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You.” (Mark 1:1-2)

The second witness is from the mouth of Jesus Himself, who drew the line between Malachi and John the Baptist:

And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. (Mat. 11:12-13)

The Gospel era was launched with the ministry of John the Baptist. Get this clearly: The Gospel is in the Gospels.

Those who place the teachings of the Gospels in the Old Testament era do so because they want to be free of some of the constraints in Christ’s teachings. Jesus, who taught in the fullness of grace (Jn. 1:14), taught things that guard the gospel from excesses. When Jesus’ teachings are brushed aside, the stage is set for teachings that appear to produce freedom, but in the end lead to permissiveness, indulgence, imbalance, and even sin.

God came from heaven, became flesh, and walked among men to communicate to us the heart of the Father. There is no higher authority in all Scripture than the words of Christ. Any theological system that assigns secondary value to the teachings of Jesus Christ is to be avoided like cancer.

John G. Lake wrote, “I consider all the Word of God the common court of the Gospel, but the words of Jesus are the supreme court of the Gospel.” To this I lend my hearty amen.

When the words of Christ are relegated to second place, it makes a way for imbalanced teachings about the grace of God. The grace of God can be presented in a way that enables believers to turn liberty into license.

And when the words of Christ are relegated to second place, it makes a way for imbalanced teachings about money and prosperity. Jesus’ teachings about money become viewed as legalistic, and His example of a simplified lifestyle is jettisoned in favor of lavish lifestyles.

The topic of this post is personal for me because of a time when the Lord visited me and rebuked me. I had been influenced by some authors in a certain stream in the body of Christ, and had adopted some ideas about the power of Pentecost that had, by default, minimized all that preceded the cross, including the teachings of Christ. I did not realize how wrong that line of thinking was until the Lord came to me in a clear way, rebuked me, and re-aligned my understanding in something not unlike a chiropractic adjustment. He rebuked me for viewing the teachings of Christ too lightly. I saw it clearly: “The Gospel is in the Gospels.”

Someone might argue, “But didn’t Paul say that Christ was ‘born under the law?’” (Gal. 4:4). True enough. We were not fully liberated from the law until the resurrection of Christ. John the Baptist and Jesus ministered in a unique window of time during which the teachings of the Gospel were introducing a new era, while the full provision of this Gospel was not released until the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). He had to be born under the law in order to satisfy the law’s requirements. While satisfying the law, He announced a Gospel of repentance that was greater than the law.

John the Baptist was “more than a prophet” (Mat. 11:9) because his ministry wrestled the Gospel era into human history. He paved the way so that Jesus could give us the glorious teachings of the Gospel.