Monday, October 30, 2006

"We Shall Overcome" - Gleanings from John R.W. Stott

Are you facing a spiritual battle today? If so, read on!

"Jesus is Victor". The cry of the ancient church, the cry of Corrie ten Boom, the heartfelt belief of Christians throughout the centuries, rings true over your life and circumstances today. Yet it is easy to forget, when faced with a very real spiritual battle, that we struggle against a defeated foe.

In The Cross of Christ, John R.W. Stott expounds upon this theme, and reminds us of those truths that are so important. Since I can't put these any better, I'll defer to him today.

"Every Christian conversion involves a power encounter in which the devil is obliged to relax his hold on somebody's life and the superior power of Christ is demonstrated."

"For Christians as for Christ, life spells conflict. For Christians as for Christ, it should also spell victory....The victory of Christians, therefore, consists of entering into the victory of Christ and of enjoying its benefits."

"For though the devil has been defeated, he has not yet conceded defeat. Although he has been overthrown, he has not yet been eliminated. In fact he continues to wield great power. This is the reason for the tension we feel in both our theology and our experience.... Another way of approaching this tension is to consider the implications of the verb katargeo, which, though often translated in our English versions as 'destroy', really falls short of that. It means rather to 'make ineffective or inactive', and is used of unproductive land and unfruitful trees. They are still there. They have not been destroyed. But they are barren. When this verb is applied to the devil, to our fallen nature and to death, therefore, we know that they have not been completely 'destroyed'. For the devil is still very active, our fallen nature continues to assert itself, and death will go on claiming us until Christ comes. It is not, then, that they have ceased to exist, but that their power has been broken. They have not been abolished, but they have been overthrown....Victory over him has been won, but painul conflict with him continues."

"More than half the occurrences of the 'victory' word group (nikao, to overcome and nike, victory) are to be found" in Revelation. "Michael Green has suggested that the liberation song, 'We shall overcome', might have been written as 'the signature tune of the New Testament'; its triumphant strains are certainly heard throughout the book of Revelation."

"How, then, can we enter into Christ's victory and prevail over the devil's power? How can we be numbered among the 'overcomers'? How can we hope to throw the enemy back, not only in our own lives but in the world he has usurped? First, we are told to resist the devil. 'Resist him, standing firm in the faith.' Again, 'Resist the devil and he will flee from you.'...We have to claim the victory of the cross....Secondly, we are told to proclaim Jesus Christ. The preaching of the cross is still the power of God. It is by proclaiming Christ crucified and risen that we shall turn people 'from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God' (Acts 26:18), and so the kingdom of Satan will retreat before the advancing kingdom of God! No other message has the same inherent force. No other name is defended and honoured by the Holy Spirit in the same way."

May God give you grace to stay in the battle!

Friday, October 27, 2006

"Commended as God's Servants"

Do you find yourself struggling to communicate how much you love your people group? Are you longing to see them embrace the "day of salvation" God has put before them, to see them reconciled to God? Are you seeking to make sense of the things you are going through that apparently detract from that overall purpose?

If so, take heart. The Apostle Paul addressed exactly that situation in his second letter to Corinth. After appealing to them to be reconciled to God in chapter 5 and to embrace "today" as the day of salvation at the opening of chapter 6, Paul relates his ministry to God's overall work in Corinth.

2 Cor. 6:3-10 (ESV) We put no obstacle in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4 but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; 7 by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8 through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9 as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.

Specifically Paul tells them that rather than becoming a hindrance, Paul and his companions sought to live in such a way as to not be an obstacle. In fact, they used the frustrating and even dangerous experiences of ministry as elements to "commend" themselves to the Corinthians. In other words, they allowed their struggles to prove to the Corinthians the genuineness of their love, their commitment, and their faith. Paul's "commendations" run the gamut from sleeplessness to persecution, and includes not only experiences but lifestyles -- "purity", "Truthful speech". They found ways to turn the negatives into positives for the kingdom!

What are you struggling with today? As a servant of God, ask Him to use it to commend you to the people you are serving.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Love or Obedience?

Sometimes it's just hard to love.

Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God, and the second is to love others as ourselves. We know that, and we long to obey. But it's not easy.

Biblical love toward others isn't an emotion, a warm-fuzzy feeling. Biblical love, according to 1 Cor. 13, acts in specific ways for the best interest of the one loved. Likewise, Biblical love toward God is exemplified in obedience.

John 14:15 If you love me, you will keep my commandments

In one of the great mysteries of the kingdom, sometimes we have to ACT before we FEEL. Sometimes despite all our desire to be motivated by love, it's gut-level obedience that gets us to the point where that love moves from actions to heart-level.

Corrie ten Boom, the Dutch Christian imprisoned in a concentration camp during WWII, told a beautiful story of facing one of her captors after a German church service. The man came to her as a new brother in Christ asking forgiveness. Corrie related that she simply could not find it in her - her heart was cold. Yet she quickly spoke to the Lord and asked for His strength ... and she recounted that as she raised her arm to shake the man's hand she still felt nothing, but simply forgave out of obedience. At the moment she grasped his hand, she felt the love flow through her -- a love she knew was from God.

In "Why We Go", Samuel Moffett talks about this tension for missionaries. Quoting C.S. Lewis, Moffett writes, "We do not fail in obedience through lack of love, but have lost love because we have never attempted obedience." He expounds, "God is love, but it is obedience that forges, focuses, and incarnates that love into a mission....We know the way. God promises the power. Our part is to obey."

Has God placed you in an assignment where you are struggling to develop the love you know you need for your people group? Do you wonder why God moved you from a place of service where love came easily into one where you fervently are begging Him for it? Walk out the obedience, and ask Him to infuse you with His love. Jesus assures us that walking in obedience is the path to abiding in His love.

John 15:10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Struggles on the Road

"This is not what I expected."

Those words came repeatedly from a young boy in Children's Church a few weeks ago. I laughed about it at the time but later thought how often I'd had the same reaction, even after what I felt was clear direction from God. Isn't it odd how we can be without a doubt in the center of His will and still find that it is not at all what we expected?

His ways are so much higher than ours, and when things are going well we can appreciate that. But it is when we face the struggles on the road that our faith is challenged, and we come face to face with the fact that His will - perhaps even the answer to a prayer, or something we initially put down in the category of "blessing" - is not at all what we expected.

The bottom line of discipleship is that this walk is more than mental assent. Scottish Presbyterian john Alexander Mackay highlighted this so beautifully as the difference between "the balcony" and "the road". He wrote: "Assent may be given on the Balcony, but consent is inseparable from the road".

It is rarely in "the balcony" of our quiet times and our agreements to God's wonderful plans that I have my struggles. Certainly there have been times of wrestling through a decision my flesh didn't want to make, but by and large my struggles have been with application, not agreement. And yet God consistently calls me -- and you -- to "walk the walk" on the Road, and not merely accept a theoretical obedience in the Balcony. As Samuel Escobar writes, "Because Jesus is Lord, he is to be followed on the road which is the place where life is lived in the midst of tensions, where conflicts and concerns become the soil from which ideas are born. Thus, discipleship is the ground of true theology."

So true. If we are not willing to follow Him in obedience, our understanding of His truth - our theology - will be greatly limited. If we do grasp a theological truth, then He will make sure we have an opportunity to "walk it out".

If you are struggling on the road today, take heart. God has you there for a purpose. Keep following Him to a place where your theology will come to life in your reality - and wait to see what He reveals next!

Mark 4:24-25 And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

Monday, October 23, 2006

A reminder of a righteous ruler

Are you frustrated today with the injustice you see in your country? Does the bribery and corruption at the highest levels make you despair? Do you wish just once that you could accomplish an administrative task without facing the hurdles put up by those who want to profit from your wish to do good?

Take heart and remember that Jesus Christ - the Messiah, the Branch - is the righteous ruler. Where He rules in hearts and minds we experience a measure of His righteous rule now, and He promises a day when His righteous rule will encompass the earth... a day when the earth will be full of the knowledge of God!

As you labor for that day in your country, and as we labor with you in prayer, let us trust the One who set the plan into motion before the earth began. The corruption you see is only temporary ... but He will reign forever!

Isa. 11:1-9 (ESV)
11:1 There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.2 And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,the Spirit of counsel and might,the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.He shall not judge by what his eyes see,or decide disputes by what his ears hear,4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.5 Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,and faithfulness the belt of his loins.
6 The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;and a little child shall lead them.7 The cow and the bear shall graze;their young shall lie down together;and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den.9 They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain;for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Command - or promise?

I was captivated by a profound quote in my reading last night:

Newbig on Acts 1:8: "The word, 'You shall be my witnesses', is not a command to be obeyed but a promise to be trusted."

Certainly we are commanded to be involved in the task of missions - Matt. 28:19-20 is in the imperative. But Acts 1:8 is more a statement of fact and is connected with the great promise of missions -- the empowering of the Holy Spirit.

Realizing that God has given the nations to His Son as an inheritance is the great assurance of missions. We don't know who among each people group will believe, but He does. And we can take assurance that there WILL be some from among each group around the throne!

Serve today in the great assurance of the promise!

Acts 1:8 "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."

Rev. 7:9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A prayer for your part of the world

When I read Isa. 9:1-7 (see below) this morning in my quiet time God prompted me to pray the following prayer for those nations that are still in anguish, darkness, and battle. Many of you serve in such lands and though I won't mention the names here, please know that God prompted me to pray specifically for several of your nations. When you see the oppression around you please know that God is linking hearts here with your hearts there to pray for His kingdom to come and His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, in the countries that you serve so faithfully.

My prayer:

Lord, please let these countries be delivered from gloom and anguish. Let the people groups there who have been walking in darkness see Your great light. Shine the light of Jesus, the Light of the world, on those who dwell in deep darkness in those countries. Let them know true joy for the first time. Break every vestige of bondage and free them from the cycle of violence.

Oh Lord, Jesus is the child born "to us" - and we want to see them embrace Him and realize He came for them too. Let these people know Him as Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace they so desperately need. Let them understand a measure of what it means for ultimate authority to be on His shoulders. Set them free Lord, set them free.

Your kingdom come, Your will be done, in the precious name of Jesus.

Isa. 9:1-7 (ESV):
But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
2 The people who walked in darknesshave seen a great light;those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,on them has light shined.3 You have multiplied the nation;you have increased its joy;they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest,as they are glad when they divide the spoil.4 For the yoke of his burden,and the staff for his shoulder,the rod of his oppressor,you have broken as on the day of Midian.5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in bloodwill be burned as fuel for the fire.6 For to us a child is born,to us a son is given;and the government shall be upon his shoulder,and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.7 Of the increase of his government and of peacethere will be no end,on the throne of David and over his kingdom,to establish it and to uphold itwith justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Housekeeping - Comments

I've changed the settings on the blog so that you don't have to have a blogger account to post comments. So please feel free to comment away!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

What is your calling?

Who among us hasn't struggled with this question? On the surface it might seem easy to answer: "Missions" or "the Great Commission" ... maybe a specific country or people group. Perhaps you're one of those blessed to be on the field working in a specific job and able to identify exactly what your "calling" looks like.

Or maybe not.

Maybe you're like so many who have been forced to come face to face with a dramatic shift in your "calling". You were "called" to a village, to a people group ... relationships were developing, you were learning the language and culture, life was great. You were thrilled to be a missionary. Then circumstances, or your mission agency, or politics, or God Himself intervened and you found yourself separated from the very thing you thought you were "called" to do. How do you respond now?

* Stubbornly press on with Plan A, insisting that every obstacle is of the devil and fighting with all your might to hold on to your "calling";

* Give up, pack your bags and come home;

* Serve reluctantly in a new area, lamenting constantly that if it weren't for ___________ God's work would be so much further along;

* Question your "calling";

* Wrestle through the struggle with God and reassess His plan

Is there another option? Is there a lesson that can be learned when the "calling" becomes so unclear?

I believe there is. I believe that the answer lies in understanding the nature of the "call".

Throughout the Gospel accounts of Jesus' call of The Twelve, the most consistent phrase He uses is, "Follow Me". "Follow Me." What does that mean? Surely it means more than "go do this work among this people group". Certainly it goes beyond "go to this job every day for 5 years, then go to this job for the next 3."

"Follow Me." Jesus' call to radical discipleship and service is, first and foremost, a call to follow Him. The shift in thinking is profound. If we are called to a specific task and don't see fruit, then our human nature calls our very identity and purpose into question. If our call is to a people or location and circumstances change we want to know whom to "blame". Sometimes missionaries even come home feeling like failures over events beyond their control.

But if our call is to follow Jesus, then the tasks He has us do, while important to the Kingdom, are secondary to our identity. If we are called to follow Him then our focus is on relationship and joining Him in His work. If that work shifts, we shift with Him. Whether we labor diligently at one task for decades or shift our focus a dozen times, our main purpose remains the same: to follow Jesus.

Doors close and open all the time. Paul experienced this when he desired to enter Asia, but God intended for him to go instead to Macedonia. Our fundamental understanding of what our call consists of will help tremendously at those times when God closes a door we are certain He called us to enter.

Follow Him today and every day.

Heroes with feet of clay

I have a score of heroes in my life.

About 7 years ago God began surrounding me with mission-minded individuals who were actually DOING missions ... and whose prayers reflected a kingdom mindset I'd never seen.

Over time God has taken us different directions but some of these, and others I've met since, are serving the kingdom of God around the world in places I can't even write here.

And they are my heroes.

But I am fully aware that they have feet of clay. Every one of them are fallible humans. There are days they don't want to get out of bed. There are days they long for a cheeseburger and fries and some mindless entertainment. There are days they question whether it is worth it.

As I shared with my husband yesterday, missionaries are learning the same lessons we are -- they are just doing it in a different context. I've had some tell me that God sent them overseas because He knew that's what it would take for them to learn (humility, love, patience ... fill in the blank).

As my kingdom vision has grown, I have become increasingly aware that God has put these missionaries in my life for a reason. That reason is not so that I can idealize them (or idolize them!) ... but so that I can pray for them, support them, and encourage them.

That is my vision for this blog: A place where a busy missionary can land for a few minutes of encouragement from someone who sees him or her as a hero ... with feet of clay.

2 Corinthians 4 is my theme passage for this blog. More to come later ...

4:1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, [1] we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants [2] for Jesus' sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Treasures in Jars of Clay
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.
13 Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, 14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.