Saturday, August 30, 2008

Messy Service

The priest must present it at the altar, pinch off its head and offer the head up in smoke on the altar, and its blood must be drained out against the side of the altar. (Lev. 1:15)

Where do people get the idea that ministry is about position or prestige? That having Lear jets and million dollar homes is a sign of spiritual success? That prosperity is primarily material? That when we do it right, it's clean and easy?

And why do I find this passage so convicting?

Before reading Leviticus 1 this morning I prayed for an application. I expected to struggle with it, but God hit me square between the eyes with the obvious - something I've overlooked many times. The priests had a messy job.

And then He reminded me that under the New Covenant, I am a priest. And so are you, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ.

So why do I expect my priestly ministry to be anything less than messy? Why do I get frustrated with my valiant effort to serve doesn't go smoothly ... when there is warfare ... when the path of service requires me to get my hands dirty? Why do I get frustrated when I have to play an organizational role that belonged to someone else - when I am there to serve anyway? Why do thoughts of the benefits that might come from service cross my mind?

Speaking to King's College in 1944, C.S. Lewis encouraged students to shun "the Inner Ring" - that place of being "in the know", accepted, elite, above others. We don't like to admit that there is an "Inner Ring" in Christianity as well ... even within our churches. Among the many reasons to shun any "Inner Ring" is that the minute we look at ourselves as "special", we lose something of the mindset of service.

The priests could have been considered an "Inner Ring". But Scripture places on them more of a burden, a responsibility. And should they ever begin to think too highly of themselves, the blood splashed all over them, the messy entrails of the sacrifices, and the next bird's head to pinch off would be vivid returns to reality. They were chosen all right - chosen for messy service.

And so are we. Messy service means that God reserves the right to rearrange my schedule. It means that He can turn my life upside down. It might mean that He sends someone to my home that requires me to adapt my lifestyle. It might mean a special needs child, an ill parent, or a rebellious teenager takes priority over my own life goals for a season. It might mean sitting up at night to patrol the streets of a city and try to deliver women from prostitution. It might mean holding the head of someone kicking a drug habit as they vomit. It might mean going to the other side of the world and wearing a burqa. It might mean giving up internet access and pizza.

And like the priests of Leviticus, it might just mean redemption as someone accepts the atonement offering of Jesus Christ.

Hang in there. No matter how messy it gets on the ground, we have the assurance that we will stand before Him fresh and clean, worshiping around His throne as part of the only Inner Ring we should ever pursue.

She was permitted to be dressed in bright, clean, fine linen (for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints). (Rev. 19:8)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Transformational Experience

This is the inventory of the tabernacle, the tabernacle of the testimony, which was counted by the order of Moses, being the work of the Levites under the direction of Ithamar, son of Aaron the priest. (Ex. 38:21)

In my quiet time I can be a "model Christian" (whatever that is) - meaning that I can have the theology right and the desire to practice it. But in the nitty-gritty of life, "where the rubber meets the road", I falter ... often before getting out the door. I used to wonder why God didn't change me sitting there in my prayer room. Now I know that isn't His way.

I'm in the midst of an interesting journey in my quiet time. A few months ago, after I completed a Bible read-through, I was praying about how to proceed in my quiet time and sensed the Lord prompting me to pursue an "application- and prayer-centered" read-through. Never one to miss pointing out the obvious to the Lord :) I mentioned to Him that in some sections that would be rather challenging. The portion I'm in was one of those I had in mind. I knew that there was a lot of rich typology and some doctrine to be gleaned, but I was concerned that there would be little application and not much to pray over. Little did I know!

I'm blessed to be using the NET Bible for this read-through (you can see it online at www.nextbibleorg). This is a "translators" version which gives alternative renderings and discussions of the choice of Hebrew or Greek texts and translations. It basically affords miniature word studies, often on words I would never think to look up. Today's reading was one of those, and I was so blessed that I just have to share it with you!

The word translated "inventory" is the Hebrew pyqued. It comes from the root meaning "visitation" and refers to "numbering" and "appointing". But the translator's notes gleaned something that has had me thinking all day long:

By using this Hebrew word there is also the indication that whatever was given, i.e., appointed for the tabernacle, was changed forever in its use.

Changed forever in its use. Whatever is given for God's purposes is changed forever in its use. In other words, change happens best in service. Ministry will also be a transformational experience. We often think we are changed in order to serve ... but God's Word lays down the principle that we are changed by serving.

That's not a big surprise to many of you. I've heard most of you tell me that the biggest change on the field happens in the heart of the one who goes. And it's the same here. When we truly give ourselves to serve - seriously looking for opportunities to bless; taking the jobs that no one else desires; scorning what C.S. Lewis called "The Inner Circle" in favor of that place on the fringe where we go unrecognized - then something amazing happens. We are transformed.

That change which I seek to have imparted to me supernaturally doesn't come so easily. Instead, what is imparted is the Holy Spirit - and with Him all I need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). I become a new creation with a new heart. And then God calls me to cooperate with Him on a daily basis to live into reality what He has put within me. To make theology meet reality. And the medium through which He works this transformation is service.

All the gifts of the Spirit are for the building up of the body (1 Cor. 12). We know that - and yet we don't always get that it's not just those we serve who are built up. Sometimes we need the most work of anyone in the group. It's easy to forget that God doesn't use us because of our spirituality and maturity, but in spite of ourselves! And that's how we know the power is of God and not ourselves. I can sit here and tell you my strengths and I know God gave them to me. But it's when He works through my weaknesses - when He calls me to serve in an area where I know I'm desperate for Him - that I know HE did it and not me. And I stand in awe of Him.

Changed forever in its use. Sometimes our struggles in ministry are designed to change us. Surrender your challenges to God today and let Him change you forever through service.

But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that the extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. (2 Cor. 4:7)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

"______, who first came to Jesus _____"

I am intrigued about Nicodemus. After Nicodemus questions Jesus in John 3, we don't get to hear how the story turns out. We get some clues in John 7 and John 12 - Nicodemus defends Jesus' right to be heard, and goes with Joseph of Arimathea to prepare Jesus' body for burial. Both times, he is refered to as "Nicodemus, who first came to Jesus by night."

That really stuck with me. If I were to be identified by how I first came to Jesus, what would it be? As I thought it over, I finally decided on: "Rosa, who first came to Jesus in desperation."

And I was desperate. Although I was raised in church, I kept God at a distance. I didn't pursue intimacy with Him. And my life fell apart. Several years and a divorce later, I found myself remarried and desperate to avoid the regrets of the past. I turned back to my childhood faith, this time with a desperation for God's presence and Word. I began to walk with Him and grow in Him, and to see Him work and move in my life. For the first time, I felt truly like a new creation.

I want to keep that feeling before me - that desperation that first brought me to Him. I imagine Nicodemus being introduced in heaven to the Father - "This is the one who came to me at night". I want Jesus to say, "This is Rosa, who was desperate for me every day of her life."

What goes in your blanks? As you write yourself into the story of salvation, how would you be defined? Or how do you want to be defined?

May it ever be so.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

"I want to know the real You"

And Moses said, “Show me your glory.” Ex. 33:18

C.S. Lewis was right: We are far too easily pleased.

We too frequently settle for so much less than the fullness of who God is. In my own life, I have seen myself struggle with settling for the passing pleasures of sleep and chocolate rather than the potential deepness of a stronger relationship with God. Not that sleep and chocolate are bad - may it never be! But I know when, deep down, I'm making a choice that is taking me away from intimacy. And I don't like that after all these years, I still make such decisions.

That's why the story of Moses in Exodus 33 jumped out at me. Moses - begging God and interceding for Israel, unwilling to move forward without His presence - asks to see His glory. In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament used in New Testament times and quoted extensively in the New Testament, the translation means "Show me the real You."

Moses had been dealing with God's judgment over the golden calf incident (Ex. 32). Now, He asks God to reveal Himself in a new way. He wants to see "the real You".

Seeing God for who He really is still requires what Moses demonstrated in this chapter:
* Determination to meet with Him. We have to want His agenda, not our own. In a society like ours, most people want God on their side. Even for the faithless of Israel, the thought of losing God's presence was sobering. But He doesn't want us to co-opt Him to "our side". The real question should be, are we on His side. Are we determined to meet with Him, to not go up without Him?
* Willingness to be near, not worship at a distance like the Israelites. Most of us know someone who gets in frequent jams and is always ready to change during a crisis. These "Crisis Christians" are often prone to calling us for prayer, but not as willing to spend their own face time with Jesus. They want to stand at the tents like Israel, watching us go into His presence on their behalf. And God very graciously may respond. But like Israel, they will miss the depth of His glory. They will never truly see 'the real Him'.
* Intercession on behalf of others -- even those who don't "deserve" it.
* A desire to see His glory - to know "the real You". Sometimes, our own sin makes us fearful of what God is really like. Other times, we just don't want to do our part. We want Him to show up, but we don't make an effort to meet Him. When we truly desire to see His glory, we will find out what He's really like.
* A dependence on His presence. Moses was unwilling to go up without Him!

And just what did Moses see when God allowed Him this awesome privilege? Really only glimpses of glory - the 'fringes of His ways', as Job recalls. Yet even that shows an incredible truth. Because Moses was asking to see the real God in the context of Israel's sin, we might expect the Jealous God or God's wrath to be revealed. And these are rightfully considered part of His glory, because they are part of who He is. But what God reveals when Moses asks to see "the real You" cuts to the heart of the matter:

* Goodness
* Grace
* Mercy
* Revelation
* Covering

God's goodness, grace, and mercy were the very things that could have been in doubt because of the golden calf incident. Yet this passage reveals that God is full of those things. Given the chance to show Moses only a glimpse of His glory, this is the glimpse He selected. Adrain Rodgers used to say, "The cross didn't change God's heart; it revealed it." The heart He revealed to Moses when He gave him a glimpse of His glory is the same heart that sent Jesus to die for us when we were still His enemies.

This is the glimpse the Israelites missed, because they worshipped from afar. Because unlike Moses, they didn't want to see "the real You."

I Just Want to be Where You Are by Don Moen
I just want to be where You are,
dwelling daily in Your presence
I don't want to worship from afar,
draw me near to where You are

I just want to be where You are,
in Your dwelling place forever
Take me to the place where You are,
I just want to be with You

I want to be where You are,
dwelling in Your presence
Feasting at Your table,
surrounded by Your glory
In Your presence,
that's where I always want to be
I just want to be,
I just want to be with You

I just want to be where You are,
to enter boldly in Your presence
I don't want to worship from afar,
draw me near to where You are

Oh, my God,
You are my strength and my song
And when I'm in Your presence
Though I'm weak You're always strong

I just want to be
I just want to be with You

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Asking the Right Questions

We saved $1700 on our new car because we asked the right questions.

First, the salesman never volunteered that a standard shift cost $900 less. Asking the right questions, we quickly learned of this potential savings. Later, as we were wrapping up the deal, the finance manager promoted the extended warranty "for only $16 a month more" ... and only when we asked the right questions did we learn that the warranty can be purchased at any point before the basic warranty expires - without the $800 interest we would have paid over the life of the loan.

I'm learning that asking the right questions is important in life as well as in car shopping. So often our first question when there is a problem is "What went wrong?" "What happened?" "What did I do?" Or the everpopular, "Why, Lord?"

The Israelites faced such a challenge. Numbers 13-14 records their failure to see that God was up to something big, and instead chose to complain and ask the wrong questions. Of 12 spies - leaders of Israel - only 2 brought back a good report. Israel's response:
Then all the community raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the Israelites murmured against Moses and Aaron, and
the whole congregation said to them, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we had perished in this wilderness! Why has the Lord brought us into this land only to be killed by the sword, that our wives and our children should become plunder? Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” (Num. 14:1-3)

All the wrong questions! Sometimes, asking different questions can provide us a totally different perspective. When we're facing a change - wanted or unwanted - asking "What is God's view?" can yield an entirely different perspective. When we say, "Where is God working?" in our new circumstances, we often find the answer to why He shifted us - His moveable treasure - around in what seemed such a haphazard way.

The Israelites missed the chance to ask the right question - "What is God going to do about this?" would have been a good start! Instead, they shrank back into questions that didn't help a thing.

And an 11-day journey took 40 years.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Glimpses of Glory

I love the "parade of nations" at the Olympic opening ceremony. Despite my internal conflict over this year's Beijing Olympics, I found myself anxious to see each nation march proudly into the Bird's Nest.
My favorites are always the little nations, those with one or two or a handful of athletes. I always think they are so brave, so proud to be representing their homelands. There are always interesting stories too - such as this year's US flag-bearer, one of the "Lost Boys" of Sudan who emigrated to to US and now represents my country in the Olympics.
The world seems to love this part of the Olympics, I think I know why. It gives us glimpses of glory. It draws out from within us something that God put there when He set "eternity in our hearts". It is an earthly attempt at the heavenly in-gathering that will come at the end of the age, when every tribe, tongue, and nation will "parade" before His throne to worship Him.
On that day, there will be some with just a few represented. There will be fascinating stories - billions of them. And there will be more than the 204 countries represented in Beijing -- there will be people from every tribe, tongue, nation, and people group. But we won't be gathered to compete, because the race will be over.
And all our crowns and medals will be to cast at His feet.
After these things I looked, and here was an enormous crowd that no one could count, made up of persons from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb dressed in long white robes, and with palm branches in their hands. They were shouting out in a loud voice,
“Salvation belongs to our God,
to the one seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Rev. 7:9-10

Monday, August 04, 2008

A New Path

I walked a new path last week.

While waiting on a friend, I took a path around a pond and into the woods - a path I didn't know existed. And as I did, I found myself reflecting on change and the paths of life.

Those of you who know me well understand that I am not an adventurous person. The whole "life is an adventure" approach has never had appeal for me. I avoid risk and struggle with change. (I stayed in my first full-time job 8 1/2 years, until God forced me out of the nest!)

But as I walked the path, I learned something of the joy of adventure. It was a journey of discovery, since I had no idea where the path led or ended, nor did I know what twists and turns it took along the way. And I found it unexpectedly - fun! I found myself wondering what was around the next bend.

The second round on the path had its own pleasures. I was able to pay better attention to things I missed the first time, and to look more carefully at things I only glimpsed first. But the walk made me realize that life truly can be enjoyable as an "adventure". I don't have to know the details, or even the outline, of the path. Instead, I can trust in the One who designed the path, and know that His ends are always good and for His glory.

If you're like me, you may be struggling to find joy in the journey today. If you're facing an unknown path, try trusting the Designer - and seek to pleasure of discovering where He leads.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
(Psalm 23:1-3)

The Face of Global Christianity (or, Listening with My Heart)

I was so privileged yesterday to look into the face of global Christianity.

I've heard about the "global south" and the vibrancy of the evangelical movement in places like India, Africa, and Latin America. But my readings didn't prepare me for yesterday's visit to a local Hispanic congregation.

On the invitation of a Hispanic co-worker, my husband and I attended a non-denominational evangelical church a couple of towns away. I must explain that neither of us are fluent in Spanish. Bob can converse better than me, but struggles with reading the language. I can read about 1/3 of a given text, but can't carry on a conversation. Neither of us have very good listening comprehension. So we went almost more out of courtesy than with any real expectations to receive.

But we were quite blown away by their love and hospitality, their graciousness and heart. We were made to feel included from the moment we arrived -- they even provided a translator during the message to provide at least the sense of what was said. They apologized that their translation equipment was not yet installed. (This is a very small church.) For the post-service meal, they insisted on getting our plates and serving us.

I was amazed. Here was a group of immigrants to our country, making us feel far more welcome than some of them have probably been made to feel. I felt convicted that I've never once been in a church that even attempted to provide translation for non-English speakers. Sure, there have been some that tried to plant Spanish-speaking churches - but not provide the translation in the English service. (I'm sure some do - I just haven't been in them. This is not meant as a condemnation, just a sharing of a personal time of conviction.) Yet here was a small church of less than 50 or so that was so focused on other cultures than their own that they were making the effort to translate into English.

Their heart for the world was equally overwhelming. Not once was the focus on their home countries -- in fact, we only learned the home country of 4 of the people we met. Neither were they limiting their vision to Northwest Arkansas. They clearly had a heart for the world, and were out to impart that heart within their congregation. With my reading comprehension I was able to grasp the sense of most of the worship songs. What I heard was a heart for the world -- consistently the choruses cried out to God on behalf of the nations, begging for His glory to come, and reflecting the need to take the message everywhere.

As I looked around the congregation I saw all ages, faces upturned in passionate worship. The 17-year-old who shared our lunch table could hardly wait to ask us how long we've been Christians and what we've seen God do. Here was a vibrant congregation, learning together what it means to be on mission with God. And God spoke to my heart that this was the reality of things I've been studying in my World Christian Foundations curriculum; this was the face of global Christianity.

Some of you have seen this and told me about it. Others of you hope to bring it to your corner of the world. I'm posting this to encourage you that those stories you read in the journals are real. The face of global Christianity may be shifting from the west, but it is very vibrant, and God is very much at work.

I didn't understand everything yesterday. But I understood enough to know that if I listened with my heart, I could hear the wind of the Spirit blowing.

"The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Acts 2:1-2