Summary: like Jesus, we need to not only look, but to really see men, that is, perceive and understand the deep longings in men who are without God … in short … “what are they seeking?”
To Build a Fire
September 2, 2001
Read John 1:35-39a and 2 Tim. 4:5
I want to bring an exhortation on evangelism today, but rather than stress our responsibility to evangelize, I want to do it by thinking deeply about the nature of man. When it comes down to “doing the work of an evangelist” I know three things: 1) I’m not very good at it, 2) I need Jesus to help me, 3) that like Jesus, I need to not only look, but to really see men, that is, perceive and understand the deep longings in men who are without God … in short … “what are they seeking?” This past Christmas I asked God to help me in the area of evangelism. I first read John Wimber’s Power Evangelism. Then I had a great and unexpected time witnessing to a dear friend. More recently, I went to Honduras and saw many come to Christ through our youth, and this week I completed the book, Can Man Live Without God by Ravi Zacharias. Ravi Zacharias grew up a Hindu in India, converted to Christianity, and is now one of the best minds actively defending our faith. His work especially helped me with reality #3: the need to better discern men, and what men without God are seeking.
I want to use a metaphor this morning that is captured in a phrase of Mark 8 after a blind man is partially healed by Jesus … The man said, “I am seeing men like trees, walking about.” My mind seized upon that statement, because believe it or not I have been thinking about how much the layers of wood in a tree trunk resemble or model the nature of man - the outer bark, the middle layer of sapwood, and the inner heartwood.
Do you remember the story by Jack London, To Build a Fire? A man is making his way across the Yukon in 108o below zero weather, he falls through some ice, and he’s freezing . . . He builds a fire which will save his life only to have a bough, heavy with snow, drop its load on his fire and kill it. His hope is gone, and he slowly freezes to death . . . I’ve built fires in sub-zero weather, and I’ve built fires in burned-over timber, and after you get that first small blaze going the secret is the same - you’ve got to split the wood and get to the core of it - to what’s called the heartwood, which is dry and hard and really ready to burn.
When I was 17 a man built a fire that saved my life . . . he was a hitchhiker . . . a French Canadian I had picked up on my way to the mountains of Alberta, Canada. Gaston Caron was his name, and around that fire in the morning hours, he asked a question of us all, that split me down to my heartwood . . . He asked, “What is the most important thing in your life? . . . One man said “playing drums”, another said “his family”, I don’t remember what I said, but at the end Gaston said the most important thing in life to him, was Jesus Christ, and being in relationship to Him! Later in the day, that question drove me to my knees as I was alone in the mountains, where I received Jesus Christ at my Lord and Savior! I felt Him come in, cleanse me and deliver me from all of my sins! I was born anew! A fire for God had been ignited in me!
Jesus asked the same question in another way of those following Him one day … He turned and said to them, “What do you seek?” They gave some lame answer about wanting to know where He was staying . . . (John 1:38) but I suspect that His question stood alone and haunted them and reverberated through the hollows of their souls and demanded the deepest attention of their minds.
I want to propose this morning that evangelism is like building a fire . . . and that to be effective we must go beyond the barky surface of a man or woman . . . we must go into the middle layer where he really lives, and then ultimately into the heartwood, where the deep yearnings for God that God Himself has placed there, will be ignited!!! Will you join me for a few moments in league with the blind man, who said, “I see men, but I am seeing them like trees, walking about . . . “
When you look at a person, you first see what might be called the bark, or the surface elements of their life … their profession, their family, their culture, where they live, what they enjoy - they might be rich, appear happy, or they might be struggling financially, or in the midst of a tragedy . . . you might sense their values, their mood whether they’re patient, harsh, gentle, desperate, simple or sophisticated . . . laid back or intense, brooding or optimistic. Maybe you see tall and full branches, some good fruit and some scars - maybe you see some of those very tough knots over the scars, called musclewood - like a very tough callous over an old wound.