The 911 Gospel

Whenever we have an emergency in our culture that requires assistance, we send police, and/or firefighters, or paramedics to the scene. But they don’t sneak up on us; they come with great attention drawn to their coming. Colored flashing lights and loud sirens communicate that a rescue of some sort is being staged. Someone is in distress and needs emergency help.

 But what if the whole world needed rescuing? Who would we call? Who could handle the job?  We have learned that our world, even trying to unite in a United Nations, cannot solve worldwide problems, in fact, they can rarely solve even local problems.

In our favorite stories, there is always some kind of hero that comes to the rescue. Today, superheroes are all the rage. There is Iron Man, Spider Man, Super Man, the Green Lantern, Thor, and others. In one way or another, they come to rescue the world, or a city from imminent and terrible danger. In fact, recently there was a new movie out, called The Avengers. In this story, the enemy and the danger is so great that no one of these heroes alone could save the world despite their great powers, it took all of them working together, and then the world just barely escapes. The idea is that without these heroes, without their intervention, our world would be lost.

In the New Testament, we read the story of a world that was in need of saving, and so God sent His Son, Jesus, on a divine search and rescue mission. Today, we have been trained to call 911 if there is a real emergency. The Gospel of Luke will point out that an emergency had arisen that threatened the whole world, and that we needed rescuing. As the story begins we have bright lights, angels appearing miraculously, and our super hero rescuer suddenly and dramatically appearing in the mighty form of a …baby!

 It seems strangely anticlimactic. He seems almost the anti-hero. He has supernatural powers—but never uses them to force anyone to do anything, never uses them to keep Himself from being belittled or attacked. He uses His power only to heal and help others, never to protect Himself against the bad guys. In fact, in His greatest battle with the world’s mortal enemy, Satan, His only weapon is God’s Word, the truth.

 But His mission is not to win by overcoming His enemies; because as we learn, the only way to ultimately win this epic battle is by dying at their hands. He is, we are aghast to find out, on a suicide mission. However, unlike those being practiced today by religious zealots—the only One harmed in the explosion—is Him…and all the forces of Hell.

If He had acted like a typical human hero—he would have vanquished the enemy in a great battle and then faded gloriously into the sunset. But He didn’t, because our great enemy wasn’t some powerful external enemy threatening us, it was something inside of us, infecting us. We were being destroyed from the inside out, and like the alien science fiction movies, an alien substance had contaminated not only our world—but every human being. At first we welcomed this strange infection, thinking it would set us free, only when it was too late did we recognize the danger. It’s called sin. It was so deadly that the presence of it in the Garden of Eden was enough to force an eviction—an eviction we are still experiencing.

 We tried everything against this alien invasion infection down through the years, because we all recognized it. We tried self discipline, religion, asceticism, laws, governments, philosophy, science, psychology, but nothing worked. Sin was here to stay and wherever sin was, humanity deteriorated further. We eventually began to believe there simply was no solution; we would just have to learn to live with this contamination.

 Until one day a strange and compelling star appeared in the East. Wise men followed it to see what it was all about. Then angels suddenly appeared to a group of shepherds, lighting up the dark night sky with light, sound, and spectacular supernatural activity. And a baby was born in a way no baby had ever been born before. It was born without the alien infection. The Holy Spirit conceived a child in the womb of a young Jewish virgin. And our hero had come. The rescue was on.
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BOOK REVIEW: The Call of Zulina--by Kay Marshall Strom

To be honest, when I first picked up The Call of Zulina, I had no idea what to expect. The beautiful young woman on the cover made me wonder if I hadn’t accidentally gotten hold of a romance novel (not my thing). But here, the author takes her character, Grace Winslow, the daughter of a mixed marriage between a salty white English slave trader, and a stern imperial African princess, to the most unexpected of places. Grace, who has been raised only in luxury due to the fortune her father made in the slave trade, suddenly finds herself one of them—won’t tell you how, read the book! But the slaves are not alone, one man stands ready to help—but will he be in time? Fortunately, it’s not a white man always bad, slave always good type of book. Slavery was complex, with both African and white man involved, and Strom brings this out. Grace, the main character, has to navigate both the white world as well as the slave world she is suddenly thrust into. This is one of those, got to read the next chapter even if I’m tired books—because she really ratchets up the suspense. I’m not sure what riveted me more, the fascinating and painstaking historical reality of slavery that Strom writes about, or the fascinating story line and characters she has developed. It’s just a really good read that happens to teach you something important, about slavery, about the human condition, and about faith struggling to remain afloat in the midst of it—all without coming off the least bit preachy. Can’t recommend this book highly enough, and am eager to read the next in the series. Do yourself a favor—read the book. This is the first book in the Grace in Africa series.
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Awesome quote from Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 - 1861)

"Earth's crammed with heaven
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees takes off his shoes--
The rest sit around and pluck blackberries."
(Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

Maybe that's why so often Jesus said, "He who has ears to hear..." The Heavens are telling of the glory of God and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands." (Psalm 19:1)
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BOOK REVIEW: Finding God Beyond Harvard, by Kelly Kullberg

Last year, in preparing to begin a new ministry within our church called theMANSION (www.themansionsb.com) I read a number of books dealing with how to reach the 18-35 year old. Many of the books were good, but this book, recommended by a friend, was literally transforming even though it was not specifically about the 18-35 crowd.

Kullberg is the founder of the Veritas Forums, conferences held at colleges worldwide where Christian thinkers, philosophers, scientists, etc, can come and present a Christian world view in a secular environment. This is the story of how these came about, and the riveting drama that God used in Kelly's life to bring it to fruition.

There is a story she tells in Chapter Six, (Road Trip: Living in skin) about speaking in an incredibly hostile college environment at Albany University in New York quite unexpectedly. In this story we see vintage Kelly, compassionate about Christ, and compassionate about the students seeking truth in the wrong places. The thing I liked about this chapter was that it epitomizes the approach a real Christian takes towards those who are hostile and condescending and seemingly beyond being reached. Her thoughtful, gentle responses, and her penetrating insight were inspirational. Thought so many of the students were trying desperately to provoke her, her responses are truly educational--and far more importantly, truly Christlike. This book is worth buying just for this chapter.

Too often I find well meaning Christians trying to engage the culture about them that is decidedly hostile and anti-God in a confrontational manner. Fighting fire with fire. Not only does this not work, but it takes the focus off of Jesus, where it needs to be. In every case in which Kelly is attacked, she is able to bring the person back to Jesus, what He did, what it meant, why it changes everything. A gentle answers turns away wrath.

More than any other book or resource, this book helped to form our missional identity as we began our ministry of outreach. Our goal was simply to help people find their way back to God. Did it work? We began almost a year ago, targeting and engaging non-believers with the simple truths about Jesus in a non-judgmental and non-confrontational way. They came and listened very respectfully. When you talk about Jesus, they don't even blink--they are absolutely riveted. So far six people have given their lives to Christ, ex-agnostics, atheists, gang members, and religious people in search of a real relationship with their God. What most impressed me was so many of them sharing the same thing, that one of the things that helped draw them to Christ was the love and non-judgmental atmosphere of theMANSION. How powerful the love of Jesus through Christians can be, how damaging the hostility of Christians in the name of Jesus can be.

I can't possibly recommend Kullberg's book high enough. It will change the way you think about hostile anti-god students, the real way to reach out to them, and the importance and centrality of Jesus in the entire process. Veritas is latin for truth, and Finding God Beyond Harvard is truly the quest for Veritas. Good reading!
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GREAT QUOTE

"We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it." (Madeline L'Engle quoted in Finding God Beyond Harvard, by Kelly Kullberg).

This is so true.
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He CAN prepare a table in the wilderness

Psalm 78:19-20
“Then they spoke against God; they said, “Can God prepare a table in the wilderness? Behold, He struck the rock, so the waters gushed out, and the streams were overflowing. “Can He give bread also? Will He provide meat for His people?”
I have this verse written on a faded and old 3x5 card, stuck inside a Bible by my computer. It wouldn’t mean much to anyone else; in fact they’d probably never understand its significance to me. It was a question the nation of Israel asked God in the wilderness when it appeared He would not provide for them. It was the same question that, 10 years ago, I asked God in a much more humble and contrite state. It was a prayer really. About 10 years ago, I was running out of money, hope, and ideas. I had left my pastorate, begun a new vocation that hadn’t panned out as I expected it to, and I felt certain that I had led my family into the wilderness by my actions. I was as low as I had ever been in my life. When your (apparent) mistakes affect others, the pain is magnified exponentially, especially when you love your family like I love mine. I was desperate.
I had no ideas, no resources, no hope, and a bank account that was almost gone. Sound familiar to anyone? Reading through the Psalms I happened upon this passage and was gripped by the three questions being asked by the children of Israel. Can God? Can He? Will He? I knew God could provide our needs, I wasn’t so sure about whether or not He would. My theology was in a struggle with my present circumstances which seems to always be the case. A man who once knew exactly where he was supposed to be and precisely what he was supposed to be doing was now rudderless in a leaky boat in the fog. A man who could once provide for his family was now facing the unthinkable.
Yet, at the last moment, literally, God provided not only provision, but direction. Ironically, it was the last direction I wanted to hear, the last place I wanted to go. I don’t remember a more humbling time in my life. I saw no hope. Fast forward 10 years. God has not only given me and my family abundant provision, but more importantly, He has shown me where He wants me to be, and precisely what He wants me to be doing—which brings me back to the passage. It took awhile for me to see it, but God CAN prepare a table in the wilderness, He CAN give bread also, and He WILL provide for His people.
I am currently on a sabbatical from a pastorate I have come to love deeply, and am sitting in my new office in a house of our own that God has miraculously (and I do not use that word lightly) provided. I can provide for my family, for others, and have seen for myself that “the waters gushed out, and streams were overflowing.” Did I make mistakes? Maybe, I’m not quite sure. God was sovereignly moving me where He wanted me, though the means were unconventional. There were things I needed to learn, important, life changing things. I don’t learn very quickly, and I tend to resist a truth if it does not appear instantly attractive to me. But I learned a very important thing: God is a GOOD Father. Perhaps coming from a broken home where three fathers turned around and walked out of my life never to return made that lesson a bit harder for me than for most. Good Fathers don’t love their children only when they deserve it, but especially when they don’t. That’s when they need love the most.
I just want to glorify God for all He’s done for me. I never spoke against Him as the children of Israel did, but my heart could find no assurance in his care when it should have. He has confirmed His character to me in a marvelous way. If I lose it all tomorrow, I am still blessed to have what I have today. He is a GOOD FATHER. He CAN prepare a table in the wilderness, so if you’re there I encourage you to find the rest it took me much too long to enjoy.
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Power, Dominion and Politics

I have recently been preaching through the book of Daniel in my church, and found myself perusing again the first few verses of Daniel chapter one. As I did, I came across something I had missed before. As I read again how Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon captured Judah (as Jeremiah had foretold by the Lord would happen) and King Jehoiakim after besieging the city, I read how Nebuchadnezzar took the vessels of the house of God (the temple)and deposited them in the treasury of his own god's temple. I was struck by the awesome power of God who can allow such an affront to His majesty without intervening.

This seems such a small innocuous statement, yet how much we learn about God. The Almighty, all powerful God allowed a human king to remove the sacred vessels of His temple and take them and deposit them into the treasury of a god that did not even exist. I am reminded of the amazing humility of our God. The incarnation (when God became a man) was not the first example of God's humility, His willingness to allow puny human beings to insult His glory. Here we see another amazing example. But it wasn't God's powerlessness being thrust into the spotlight, but His omniscience and sovereignty. He had already been preparing Daniel and his three friends for an amazing display of God's power that would have the powerful king Nebuchadnezzar and the powerful Babylonian empire as a background. Like an artist preparing a beautiful work of art, God was preparing the background upon which He would work. Later we will see God respond when Belshazzar (Nebuchadnezzar's grandson)abuses and commits sacrilege with the same vessels. The writing on the wall and the fall of Babylon would be the result. And each leader was reminded that their position of power had not been achieved on their own, but given to them by God.

Recently I was sent an email by concerned Christians that a coin was being printed without the words "In God We Trust," upon them. I, for one, am not bothered by that fact since the majority of those who use the coins will not truly trust in God. I am reminded, however, that God often uses people's and governments that seek to dishonor Him to display His greatest acts of power. In America we are prone to think that our democracy is sovereign, and the vote is the ultimate power in the country. Neither in a monarchy (Nebuchadnezzar) nor a democracy, has God abrogated His sovereignty. His will and power are not thwarted through candidates, votes lost or won, or laws passed or blocked. The book of Daniel is a book the church in the west needs to reexamine.

Regardless of who is in office, or what laws are passed, God is sovereign over the affairs of men and works His will with none to stop Him. Daniel reminds us that kingdoms will rise and fall, as prophecies foretell, but the Kingdom of God remains and grows ever larger and greater. Let's regain some perspective and put our efforts into those Kingdom goals that Jesus set us to. If you are feeling a little shaky about this, reread Daniel. It will help you gain an invaluable perspective.
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Autumn in Yosemite

Since it is now officially Autumn, and Annette and I have plans to camp in Yosemite again on Halloween weekend, I thought it would be appropriate to share a short article I wrote a number of years ago for FamilyFun magazine. The subject was Fun Fall Outings. I was asked to share our favorite family fun memory. It wasn't hard. I hope the article communicates the joy and fun we've had over the years.

Our Autumn in Yosemite

By Dan Schaeffer


I plant my beach chair firmly in the clean white river sand, shoulders aching from carrying approximately 3,000 pounds of necessary supplies along dirt and pine needle trails. We are half a mile from our campsite in Yosemite Valley and a world away from our home in the Southern California suburbs.
Each fall we pilgrimage to this one special spot in the valley. We come for decompression. The millions of people who visit Yosemite Valley leave it nearly deserted in fall, and the Merced River is part of our prescription. An emerald colored body of rushing river in the spring, it is now quiet, tired, and content to flow gently by.
Christi, our oldest, dashes to the icy clear water. Putting her foot in, she shrieks in mock horror. Andrew, her brother, and Katie soon join her and before long they are laughing and splashing about in the shallow water near shore, skipping rocks across the surface, and making sand angels. Mom and Dad watch the whole scene from our beach chairs, doing precisely what we came to do, exactly nothing.
Every year we return, because we want our kids to know that somewhere there is a place where every square foot is not covered by asphalt, houses, crowds, or shopping malls. Here they create memories and learn important lessons of childhood. Everything that is really fun to do doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Living in America is an incredible blessing. Life doesn’t have to be lived at warp speed, and Dad will catch whoever splashes cold water on him in the middle of his nap and tickle them until next Tuesday.
As the hours drift slowly by, they frolic in the raft, splashing each other with paddles as wild Mallard Ducks fly by so close to the water that they touch it with their wings. As the sunlight fades we trudge back to camp.
After dinner, and much pleading, I allow Andrew, under very careful surveillance, to start a fire—in the fire pit. Nearby, Mom assembles the makings for S’mores as the kids race for the coat hangers. Soon three children are sitting in front of a crackling campfire roasting marshmallows. Roasting is perhaps too mild a term. Many become flaming torches, melting into gooey black muck.
The fire blazes warm, comforting, and serene. But the smoke, controlled by an erratic mild breeze, appears magnetically attracted to wherever mom chooses to sit. At least that’s what she claims. As Andrew searches for twigs to toss in the fire, Katie, sitting on my lap, gazes up with me into a veritable sea of stars, stars not visible in the light polluted town where we live.
“Look at them all,” she murmurs. “I never knew there were so many.”
“Why can’t we see them at home?” Andrew asks, and I explain the problem of light pollution. We turn off the lantern so that the only light visible is the soft glow from our campfire. While mom makes hot chocolate, Christi points her flashlight up one of the many nearby trees so tall that the beam of her flashlight cannot reach its topmost branches. Suddenly, Katie announces that she has dropped her gooey S’more on my sweatshirt, eliciting giggles all around.
As the night grows still, our kids stare sleepily into the fire. Somewhere it may get better than this, but I can’t imagine how.
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