Mike and I celebrated over breakfast a week ago and I handed him his segment of small chain, four links long. I like to do that whenever I finish a one-on-one Bible read-through with a friend.
The links represent elements of what Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 2:2—“and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” There is the “me” and “you” and “faithful men” and “others also”—four segments of a progression in the “grace that is in Christ Jesus.” The actual number should go on and on, of course, but four links are a fine starting point.
Art was my prior chain link. At some point it dawned on me that he—my high school youth pastor—had given me a treasure: a guided pathway into God’s heart. I met Art a few months after I first met Jesus. Art’s delight in knowing Jesus was as great as my own, but he was already twenty years ahead of me in the journey so he was easy to follow.
What meant so much to me about Art was his unreserved and undiminished delight in Christ. He was forever citing Psalm 34:8—“Oh taste and see, the LORD is good!”—always expressed in such a natural way that it was clearly his own thought and not just some Bible thumping.
How was this a pathway for me? Art retained his responsiveness to the end of life and shared it wherever he went—his first love was fresh to the end. So whenever I think of the parable of the sower and the soils—as in Matthew 13—I have Art in view as a “hundredfold” sort of believer.
That sort of fruitful spirituality stands out among so many people in churches in whom the word may have stirred a momentary response but is then plucked away by Satan, or left to shrivel, or choked out by career concerns, or discarded when faced with societal scorn.
Going back to the chain imagery, Art was the sort of link meant for an aircraft carrier anchor chain in a storm. And with Art in mind I had a pattern to follow. He was never a scholar, a great churchman, or a prominent presence in any crowd. He was, in fact, virtually pushed out of his work as a youth pastor when some of the elders wanted him to direct the church bus ministry, including the maintenance work, along with his youth work. As far as they were concerned he had too much time on his hands: all he ever did was meet with students and hold Bible studies. In looking back I wonder if those elders would have known a chain link from a tire wrench!
That brings me to the point of this entry: the world needs more links. Christianity is facing a crisis but not the sort of crisis many seem to think we’re facing. I know of folks focused on doctrinal purity, led by brilliant men who are building fences to keep out any who are theologically impure. So they offer fence posts in place of chain links.
That sounds great—and the ancient Pharisees thought so too—but if these purifiers aren’t reaching the crowds of unloved people who have already been led into impure doctrines for lack of shepherds with Christ’s heart for the poor, lame, weak, and misguided, then we have a problem. True purity is always accompanied with repeated invitations, “Oh taste and see, the LORD is good!” And with invitations to read the whole Bible, again and again, so we can get to know our Lord better!
There are others in Christendom who know how to mimic what the world offers in social terms—to be together, to be special, to be entertained and excited. But what happens when the music stops and the lights go out? Are the crowds then left to plug into the nearest electronic device as a bridge to the next event? Are they actually still individuals who don’t know what it is to love others—to live selflessly as Jesus did on the cross for their sake? Or are there links being formed so that when the worship ends a conversation begins and a Bible opens? We only start to have true worship when earbuds are replaced by chain link relationships.
So here’s a calling for the New Year: be a multiplier. If you’ve been the wrong sort of soil until now, ask God for a new heart. If your heart has been hard he’ll answer the prayer and you’ll soon find yourself embracing Paul’s words to Timothy: linking the “me” and “you” and “faithful men” and “others also” as a joyful progression found in the “grace that is in Christ Jesus.”