Saturday, March 28, 2009
See, I have a Facebook "friend" who uses his status updates very intentionally. He is always displaying some new missiological insight, statistics about global poverty, challenges to think globally, etc. In a word, his posts are purposeful.
So I've been reflecting about my own updates. Sometimes they are pretty thoughtful - as when I am trying to raise awareness about an injustice, or when my quiet time spills over into a status update, reflecting a heart that is full of Him. Other times they are warm, grateful comments about family and friends. Sometimes they are just silly or fun or factual. Should I try to be more profound in my updates? That was the heart of my question.
Over the course of the last two days I reflected on mine and others' updates. I thought about things from a missiological and relational perspective. I realized that the updates are a microcosm of the person. Those who are family-oriented tend to post updates about their family life. Others who are on Facebook for business tend to post about business events. Those who view life as a fun adventure tend to post silly, fun updates. And those like my friend, who are on Facebook very intentionally, tend to post updates that are in line with that intention.
The reality of my life doesn't reflect specialization, but diversification. Every job I've had has been to some degree a "finger in many pies" job. My friends run the gamut of personality types and interests. I'm very serious, but I also have deep, close family relationships. I tend to be task-oriented, but my relationships with my friends are important to me. And there is a lighter side of me, the side that loves to belt out "I like to move it, move it" every few days since seeing Madagascar. I also know that I can be very encouraging when the Holy Spirit speaks through me - but when I try to be profound, I flop. It has to be Him, not me.
Part of the struggle God and I had to work through about this blog was me laying down my desire to be profound every time. What I want is for Him to work through me every time. To do that, I have to quit trying to be profound. I have to quit assuming that every post has to have a certain "angle" and just let Him do with my words what He will. The Facebook struggle was similar.
Tonight, I was excited about seeing "The Penguins of Madagascar" on Nickolodeon. That doesn't make me shallow; I spent quite a bit of time today studying about global poverty and various theories of development. Both aspects of my life are equally authentic. As I reflected about Facebook, I realized that I want Facebook to be an extension of my quest for authenticity in life.
People in poor urban areas and rich high-rises, those who have never heard the name of Christ and those who go to tell them, all relate best to people who are authentic. After spending too many years trying to present an image, the quest for authenticity is important to me.
So, that means sometimes I post updates that are an overflow from my quiet time. Sometimes I post about a particular injustice that angers me. Sometimes I post significant facts. Sometimes I give factual updates. And sometimes I just talk about Penguins. It's all real. It's all me. And at the end of the day, I think it makes ministry more effective.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
I love this Natalie Grant song because it is my life story. After being the wayward child, I questioned everything about what I believe and why. I still ask more questions than anyone I know! I often say that it's impossible to ask a question I haven't asked.
As the song notes, sometimes I don't feel "spiritual" enough to pray and have to rely on the truth that it's not about me anyway. Too often I've kept score of what I gave up. I'm the "willing" servant who becomes unwilling when push comes to shove and has to go kicking and screaming into new territory.
But I always know that HE holds on to me far tighter than I grip His hand. And all the struggle and chaos lands me firmly in His arms. I love Deut. 33:27 - "The eternal God is a dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms". Truly, my brokenness has been the path on which I've learned about His grace.
If my life story has a lesson for anyone else it's that God's shoulders are big enough. Big enough for your struggles...your questions...your challenges. Big enough to see you through today and bring you more into the image of Christ tomorrow. Big enough to keep you from moving - even when you try.
Monday, March 23, 2009
Phillippi was a missionary church! Founded when Paul ran into some godly women (Acts 16), Phillippi was one of the earliest Gentile congregations. So Paul's letter serves not only for discipleship, but provides assistance to a congregation that he founded. Not coincidentally, only a few verses before these Paul addresses conflict within the church between two women, Eudoia and Syntyche, whom Paul considers fellow laborers in the Gospel!
The enemy loves to step in and cause conflict between believers ... especially those working together to advance the kingdom of God. I don't think it's coincidental or unrelated that Paul follows his charge to these women with 3 fundamental commands:
2. Be reasonable
3. Don't be anxious, but pray!
In the midst of conflict and spiritual attack, we can achieve a great measure of unity by Paul's commands. Rejoice - praise God, together if possible! Be reasonable ... don't dig in our heels over unimportant matters. And finally, pray. Anxiety is easy to come by in relational conflicts. Prayer can nip anxiety in the bud, and bring healing and send the enemy running.
Rather than being unrelated, Paul's admonition to pray has everything to do with missions. Anxiety, whether personal or related to the enemy's attempt to cause conflict, can hinder our kingdom effectiveness. But the peace that comes with prayer can spur us on for His glory!
Friday, March 20, 2009
If you're like me, you cringe at the thought of being motivated by reward. But as John Piper points out well in Desiring God, if we truly believe that God is the highest good in the world, then we realize He has our best interests at heart. Thus, His rewards are really pointers to Him ... ways to get us to recognize and honor His glory. Ways to let us see that what He offers is worth waiting for, worth dying for. Ways to steer us away from instant gratification and believing that that what He offers is better that the temptation of sin. Ultimately then, aiming for His crowns glorifies Him in our lives.
The fact is, God has called us to some tough things. If we really sell out for Jesus, then we will face temptations and trials and challenges. We will face the opportunity for instant gratification at every turn, choices that would take us away from God's focus for our lives. Choices like that reflected in a graduation speech by John Stam in 1931, 3 years before he was martyred in China:
Shall we beat a retreat, and turn back from our high calling in Christ Jesus; or dare we advance at God's command, in the face of the impossible?...Let us remind ourselves that the Great Commission was never qualified by clauses calling for advance only if funds were plentiful and [there is] no hardship or self-denial involved. On the contrary, we are told to expect tribulation and even persecution, but with it victory in Christ.
So what does God's Word tell us about the crowns that await us if we press on instead of beating a retreat? My study of "crowns" in Scripture revealed the following crowns that await His followers:
- Crown of glory and majesty as God's creation. Psalm 8:5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.
- Crown of beauty that comes from pursuing the wealth of God's Wisdom. Prov. 4:9 She [wisdom] will place on your head a graceful garland;she will bestow on you a beautiful crown. Prov. 14:24 (1 Cor. 1:30 tells us Christ is the wisdom of God.)
- Crown of joy in ministry. Phil. 4:1 Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. 1 Thess. 2:19-20 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.
- Crown of righteousness for being faithful, perservering, and loving His return. 2 Tim. 4:7-8 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
- Crown of life for those who endure testing or temptation out of love for Christ. James 1:12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
- Crown of glory to those who shepherd others. 1 Peter 5:1-4 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
- Crown of incorruption for a good testimony and self-control. 1 Cor. 9:25-27 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable [lit. corruptible] wreath, but we an imperishable [lit. incorruptible]. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
- Crown of life for martyrs. Rev. 2:10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.
Lest we get prideful counting the crowns we accumulate, God's Word also gives us a picture of what we will want to do with these crowns in heaven:
Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal. And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,who was and is and is to come!”
And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God,to receive glory and honor and power,for you created all things,and by your will they existed and were created.” (Rev. 4:4-11)
Crowns - motivations for today, instruments for worship in the kingdom. Pursue them freely. They are for His glory.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Why do I mention this now, 5 weeks after the fact? Because in the depth of my pain, God taught me some things about His body ... the church ... and about my role in that body.
First, He spoke to me almost immediately about the importance of a support role. Honestly, I took my neck for granted before this episode. I didn't realize that my neck muscles play a role in typing, or opening the bathroom door, or tying my shoelaces. But when I was in severe pain, all those things hurt. I could feel my neck muscles in literally every movement.
Support roles in the church are like that. Sometimes in a support role (being a "sender"; making copies before church; taking kids for bathroom breaks in children's church; writing a blog) we feel unimportant ... and are sometimes taken for granted. After all, it's the evangelists and authors who are the "face" of modern western Christianity. But Paul in his wisdom prepared us for such a struggle and addressed the issue millennia ago:
On the contrary, those members that seem to be weaker are essential, and those members we consider less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our unpresentable members are clothed with dignity, but our presentable members do not need this. Instead, God has blended together the body, giving greater honor to the lesser member, so that there may be no division in the body, but the members may have mutual concern for one another. (1 Cor. 12:22-25)
Do those in support roles get overlooked, taken for granted, or given token recognition? You bet! And yet the lesson of my neck reminds me of the truth Paul taught ... the greater honor goes to 'the lesser member'. The one not visible. The one in the support role. The one who is the neck, whose absence would impact virtually every part of the body.
My sore neck also underscored the need to identify with persecuted believers. Truly, when one part of the body hurts, we all hurt. Paul and the author of Hebrews both addressed this issue:
If one member suffers, everyone suffers with it. If a member is honored, all rejoice with it. (1 Cor. 12:26, NET)
Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. (Heb. 13:3, ESV)
When my was neck hurt, I hurt all over! I thought about the persecuted church ... how distant they seem sometimes, and yet how true these verses are. The body of Christ is hurting when the church in the Middle East is nearing extinction ... when some believers recant rather than watch their children be raped ... when we sit in our comfortable churches and exalt the persecuted church rather than identify with them. When my neck was at its worst, I didn't glorify the pain for the lessons it was teaching me ... my whole body threw itself into compensating for the pain and helping me get through it.
So I'm healing now, but the tenderness keeps a fresh reminder of these lessons before me. May God use my pain to help you grasp a new understanding of His body today.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
And yet there was another meaning - one filled with hope. For there is another "unhindered" to match every societal rejection of Christ. Acts 28:30-31 captures that hope:
"Without restriction". In the Greek, the word literally means "unhindered". Paul was imprisoned under house arrest in Rome, yet the Gospel was going forth into a basically pagan culture "unhindered". In droves, people were turning from idolatry to serve the living Christ - no matter the cost.
The Gospel was unhindered by the tides of society, unhindered by Paul's imprisonment, and even unhindered by cultural restrictions. By the end of Acts we see the church united behind the idea that there is no "one form" that Christianity must follow. The Jewish Christians in Jerusalem with their temple prayers, and the Gentile Christians in Ephesus, with their rejection of idols of Artemis, were united as one under the Lordship of Christ. Unhindered by their cultures.
The fact is, we (at least we westerners) live in a society that rejects the need for absolute truth. We want to find our own way. We want life to be one big borderless puzzle. Yet no outdoorsman would pretend to know on his own where true north could be found. He knows that especially in a crisis, or when lost, he can get disoriented. An external marker of truth is needed - the compass shows true north.
When our postmodern world gets lost in the borderless puzzle that they call life, they'll need a compass to point to true north. God's revelation in His Word and His Son as revealed in that Word form the borders that give the puzzle of life a sense of unity, purpose, meaning. The borderless puzzle life will eventually dissatisfy. But we have the opportunity to point to true north - and then to guide believers into life on mission with God.
And then they too will know the true experience of "unhindered" life.
Sunday, March 08, 2009
But God does not take away life; instead he devises ways for the banished to be restored. (2 Sam 14:14b)
I love it when I see the heart of the Gospel in the Old Testament. Just when I think I'm familiar with all of the relevant passages, one comes along and grabs my heart. This morning, reading 2 Samuel 14, another one jumped out.
In the chapter Absalom is estranged from David after killing Amnon. As a woman I find the murder justifiable - Amnon raped Absalom's sister (and his own half-sister). Yet the murder estranged Absalom from David. Joab gets a woman to pretend to have an estranged son, to convince David into restoring Absalom. Halfway through the game, the woman begins to speak her heart, realizing David's good heart. She then tells him the words above - that God devises ways for restoration.
She's obviously speaking to the restoration of Absalom ... but my heart leapt as I saw here the heart of the Gospel. God devised a way of restoration. He didn't desire the death of man ... yet sin required banishment. Yet as Gen. 22 literally reads, "God provided Himself the lamb for sacrifice." Did He ever.
It's the old, old story - but I see it fresh this morning. This Lenten season, rejoice that He provided a way for the banished - us - to be restore to Him. He became the sacrifical lamb. Hear it with new ears. And worship again for the old story that never gets old.
Tuesday, March 03, 2009
But right now I am in a period of transition that is a bit more intense that other times. Specifically, I am sorting through with God a number of ministry involvements - including this blog.
I absolutely love writing. I love this blog and I'm passionate about encouraging people to be on mission for God. But I don't know what God's plan is for this blog right now.
Part of it is an issue of priorities. I'm in the last year of an intense study program, and this year is more intense than the others. God has already made it clear I am to lay down some other things to focus on "finishing well" in my studies and in particular my research projects, which are ministry-related, will take more of my time.
But it's more than that. Ideas and analogies for the blog used to "flow". Now, I receive a lot from the Lord which I put in my journal, and often share with others in a one-on-one basis, but don't feel I should write up for the blog. Not sure what's up with that. I've considered that God is changing the purpose of the blog. I've also considered that He is opening up alternative opportunities to share what He teaches me. Another possibility is that He just doesn't want me to get prideful about writing, so calls me to lay it aside from time to time. All I know is that right now this blog, along with many other things, is on the altar.
I'm not taking it down, and it is my full intent to post at any point God puts it on my heart. What that is going to look like, I don't know. But please pray for me, as I am in a transitional phase of ministry. I'm really excited. The last time this happened, God drew me into my study program and opened the door for a World Christian Women group in my home - as well as guided me to start this blog. It was a major change in my life that came after 3 1/2 years of ministry directed at one individual God told me to lay down other areas of service to love. I don't know where this is going but I know I want to be led by Him, and I know if I am, it will be amazing!