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When Facing an Enemy, Remember This…

When I worked at Enterprise Rent-A-Car almost 25 years ago, one day someone in the office took lunch orders for sub sandwiches and made a run for the whole gang. When I saw the bag full of subs, I grabbed mine and took a bite.

Except it wasn’t mine. It was the sub marked for our assistant manager, Mike. Mike was a cocky, good-looking guy who thought he was all that, busy climbing the Enterprise ladder. He was not much into grace.

So…when he found out I had taken a bite out of his sandwich, he was hot, and he looked at me like I was dumber than a toothpick. And ever after that, he treated me just that way. You know how when someone treats you like an idiot, you end up acting like one? Yeah, that was me. Mike made me nervous, and therefore fouling up got easier and easier around him.

Once I asked him a question about a particular procedure. He replied: “That’s a dumb question. Don’t ask dumb questions.”

Any questions?

Eventually I was transferred to another office, and we lost contact. Some time later I heard through the grapevine that he was demoted…or passed over for promotion, or something along those lines. Whatever it was, he and Enterprise parted ways.

Time passed, and one day at the office, I got a call for a rental…from Mike. I remember the sense that things weren’t going so well for him (surprise, surprise), and I think he needed some sort of a favor in the rental deal. It was within my purview to grant it, and I did. Then, realizing that he hadn’t been so kind to me in the past, he expressed surprise at my helpfulness. I don’t remember how I responded, but Mike knew I was a Christian.

Hopefully he connected the dots.

Maybe you have had an enemy like Mike at the office…or in the neighborhood…or in your own family. If so, you know they can definitely make life horrible. And if you’re going through life facing an enemy lately, I have a thought from Scripture that might just help you to respond like Christ.

It’s a line from the song Moses sang before he departed from the Children of Israel…

For their rock is not as our Rock; our enemies are by themselves. Deuteronomy 32:31 (ESV)

By themselves. Isn’t that stark? Your enemy may be after you, but he or she is…all alone. I think of that classic lyric by Eric Carmen, in his song, All by Myself:

Livin’ alone
I think of all the friends I’ve known
But when I dial the telephone
Nobody’s home

All by myself
Don’t wanna be, all by myself anymore
All by myself
Don’t wanna live, all by myself anymore

If you are a Christian facing an enemy, you do not face him alone; you have the Rock! And conversely, no matter how powerful he seems, he is still all by himself. And if it is a group of folks plotting your demise, they receive no supernatural help. All alone…in a cold, dark world. How sad and broken. How hopeless. How much they need Christ.

How much we all do.

…for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” Hebrews 13:5-6 (ESV)

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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The Turning Point In My Life, Part 2

(This is part 2. Part one is here.)

I walked into my first dealership one January morning and with a whirlwind of energy, greeted the parts manager with a smile: “Hi, I’m Roger Knowlton with Premier Autoware. I’d like you to have one of my pens – careful it tends to develop feet and walk away. Say, I’ve got some problem solving items for your body man. Does he handle the P.O.’s or do you?” Sometimes for variety’s sake, I shook it up: “It’s a straight-back pen. If it doesn’t work, give it straight-back.”

Premier taught me to memorize the sales pitches, and I honestly didn’t really know what I was saying, especially when it came time to sell the items – “You know that problem with brake lines that crimp and break?” – Honestly, I didn’t know the problem, but the mechanics I talked to always seemed to know what I was talking about. So I continued spouting our “solution-oriented” items, and sometimes by the grace of God, they bought. I hadn’t even owned a car until my uncle Jack took me shopping after graduation, and here I was, a non-car guy getting thrown into the world of body shops and dealerships and service stations…and sales.

I hated it.

These were dark days. I can still smell the curry and spices (there were many Indian residents) down the hallway of the little studio apartment building I had moved into. I found this tiny place (each “apartment” smaller than a dorm room) very near my old dorm, Forbes Hall, and thought it would do me fine. But it was winter in the Midwest, and on top of seasonal affective disorder, I was doing something I was never cut out to do, not to mention feeling very lonely and losing more and more hope by the day.

Walking along the sidewalk in some nameless town one day, I was carrying my case full of solution items for mechanics in one hand and my display book in the other. I don’t remember praying very much that winter, but here was an exception – I stopped and looked up at heaven, and said, “God, do I have to do this the rest of my life?”

It turned out the answer was no. I heard about another sales job working for a company called Mahon Marketing out of Chicago. They needed a manufacturer’s representative for central and southern Illinois. I applied, had good rapport with the owner Bruce, and was hired. I hadn’t proved much of anything at Premier – maybe I could start proving myself at Mahon. Or not. After a year and a half or so with Mahon, still living in Champaign, I applied to work at Enterprise Rent-A-Car. I moved north and went to work for them in the Chicago-land area, and after a year or so transferred out to the Washington, D.C. to help my friend John start a church.

And so it was that I found myself four or five years out of college, living in Northern Virginia working for Enterprise…and still not having proved much of anything. I hadn’t shown myself to be much of a salesman, nor had I proven myself in the rental car management area. All in all, I seemed to be decidedly mediocre. The church that John and I had started, however, was off and running. Cedar Run Community Church was a breath of fresh air in my otherwise stale life.

And then one day I took a walk to talk to God. If you’ve never been there, Northern Virginia, suburbs to D.C., is really quite beautiful, with miles of trails made from converted train lines, and I loved to hike these and talk to the Lord. It was a glorious day, and I found myself asking my Creator some questions.

What had I done wrong? What was my problem? Would I ever be able to go into ministry? And sometimes, when you ask God questions like this, out of His goodness and grace, He answers. And His answer would be the turning point of my life.

To be continued…tomorrow.

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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The Testimony: One of the Best Ways to Fish for Men

When I worked for Enterprise Rent-A-Car in Chicagoland and the Washington D.C. area during the late 80’s and early 90’s, occasionally I would find myself one on one with a co-worker for a longer period of time. Maybe it was just a lunch hour and two of us made plans to grab a Chicago style hot dog at Luke’s (try it when you’re near the Windy City). Maybe the Vienna, VA office was running out of cars and we needed to get to Gaithersburg to pick one up. Whatever the case, I remember asking a question on a long ride that yielded fruitful conversation on at least more than one occasion.

“John, what’s the story of your life?” I would ask.

“Well, I graduated from Purdue…”

“No, no…” I might counter. “…the story of your life. Go back further…like where were you born? Your family. Give me details.”

And so it would begin. I would ask questions along the way, really trying to draw them out. I’ve found that most people like to tell about themselves, and as long as the questions are not too prying, it can be a great way to get things going.  And for my part, I find people interesting…a great way to pass the time.

Invariably, after chatting through the notorious D.C. traffic and maybe on the beltway for a while, they would turn to me: “OK, now your turn. Tell me the story of your life.”

And I would…Born in Jackson, Mississippi, an only child, moved to Antioch, Illinois when I was 7, became an atheist in middle school/high school. Got an appointment to West Point…

“And you know, when I got to West Point, it was interesting – they suggested we go to church.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, I think they felt it was good for your reputation as an officer….”

And so it went. I would tell about how at the protestant church service, the Chaplain talked about Jesus in a way I had never heard…etc…all the way to when that cadet Bob Maruna dropped by my tent and showed me the Bridge diagram and that verse:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)

For those who are uninitiated, what I was doing here is called sharing your testimony, and I have found the testimony to be a really great way of explaining the faith. It’s a method of fishing for men which has a long and honored tradition, starting with a man named Paul in the 1st Century A.D.

…when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even more quiet. And he said: “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women…” Acts 22:2-4 (ESV)

And so, before a hostile crowd of his fellow Jews, the testimony of the Apostle Paul begins from the steps of Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem. It would not be the only time Paul would tell his story in this manner in the book of Acts – a wonderful opportunity would afford itself before King Agrippa, recounted in Acts 26.

I have personally found that sharing my testimony is a very effective way of telling someone about Jesus.  Who can argue with it? It’s your story. And the format is pretty simple.  Tell about your life before you met Christ. Tell how you met Christ, and try to include a verse at this point, especially one that meant something to you at the time and helps to explain the gospel (like mine: Ephesians 2:8, 9). Then finally, tell about what has happened in your life since you met Christ.

I hope you’ll give it a try sometime. If it was good enough for Paul, why not you and me?

 

For tomorrow, Thursday, March 12: Acts 23

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Comfort for those who believe they have committed an unpardonable sin

disastroIn January of 1991, I filled up my 1984 Chevy Celebrity with all my worldly goods and headed east to help start a church with my friend John Cox.  John was a fairly recent Fuller seminary grad, and I was out of college working at Enterprise Rent-A-Car.  We had met at Willow Creek in Chicago where he was an intern, and he told me of his desire to start a church either in the Washington D.C. area, or L.A. When he decided on Washington D.C., I was delighted, long having been a political junkie; I determined to come along.

These were exciting days – ah, for the adventure of youth!  We wanted to reach lost people, and figured there would be plenty of those out in the land of politics and passion.  It was just the two of us, plus a young gal named Mindy Ebert who would be our children’s ministry director.   John moved out a few months before me and secured lodgings with a guy who owned a townhouse in Centerville, VA.  When I arrived, I moved in with the two of them.

Just about every day, before I headed off to Enterprise and he headed off to do whatever church planters do, the two of us would pray together, asking God to begin the work which would eventually be called Cedar Run Community Church.

And then, when our landlord/roommate set a wedding date, we took the hint and set about to find a new place. Happily, John had a contact named Brian who had a couple of spare rooms in his house, and one evening, we went out to eat with Brian and his other roommates, I suppose to make sure there would be the all-important roommate chemistry.

We were all believers, and had a great time of fellowship. Except. At one point in the evening, Brian, a charismatic Christian, played a cassette tape of a worship service he had been a part of, as I remember, to get our opinion.  And it was a cacophony of sounds, probably screaming, chairs turning over, that sort of thing.  And after listening to it, I made an off-hand comment: “It sounded demonic.”

Probably not a wise comment, but it was what I was thinking, and Brian seemed to be looking for our opinion.

Now, it didn’t occur to me right away, and nobody else said anything, but perhaps a few minutes later, I realized that the people associated with this worship service characterized this particular moment of the service as “the Holy Spirit coming by.”

And in a flash of emotional pain, I thought, “Uh-oh…what if I was wrong?”  If so, I had just called the Holy Spirit a demon.  And I knew my Bible well enough to know that if I had just called the Holy Spirit a demon, I had also just committed the unpardonable sin.

Or had I?

It is a passage of Scripture that has caused great trouble to surely thousands and probably millions of Christians through the centuries: Jesus said…

“Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”

Matthew 12:31-32 (ESV)

Would you believe me if I told you that off and on for years, I would wrestle with whether or not I had committed the unpardonable sin that Jesus speaks of here?  The reasons for my long struggle included a misunderstanding of Scripture resulting from a too-light hold on the gospel, and a powerful enemy who wished for me to live as a discouraged Christian. As Martyn Lloyd Jones said, “…Satan who, though he cannot rob us of our salvation, can definitely rob us of our joy.”

Now there have been books written on this subject, but let me enumerate just a few reasons that a person who worries about having committed the unpardonable sin…shouldn’t…

Continued tomorrow, Saturday, January 17…

(In the meantime, consider reading this most wonderful article by the great hero of the faith, mentioned above, Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd Jones.)

Coming on Monday, January 19: Matthew 13

 

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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