Monday, October 31, 2011

Making an Impact

"I realized I'm not supposed to be pursuing impact, I'm supposed to be pursuing God. And when I pursue God I will have exactly as much impact as He wants me to have....We're not called to be a people of vision, we're called to be a people of revelation. God speaks and we follow."
- Phil Vischer, creator of Veggie Tales on the lessons he learned after the failure of his company, Big Idea.

Today's "typical Christian" is not a white westerner in a megachurch, serving in the food pantry and giving generously to missions. It's not someone who applies business models to the church and creates five year plans and programs with goals and target dates. None of this is necessarily wrong - it can even be helpful - but it's certainly not "typical".

The "typical Christian", statistically speaking, is a poor woman from Africa, Asia, or Latin America. She's probably never been in a large congregation, and might even worship outside. Her church likely doesn't have a food pantry, but she willingly shares the little food she has with those who come to her in need. Like the widow who gave her last coins, she gives beyond generously - she gives sacrificially. She doesn't create plans and programs because she is just trying to do the next thing in front of her to care for her family and others God sends her way. She just loves Jesus with her whole heart, whatever the cost.

I think that I can learn a lot from this "typical Christian".

I am by nature a task-oriented person. That's a good thing - God made me this way for a reason. But like anything else, it is only beneficial when exercised under the control of the Holy Spirit. For many years, my task-orientation was completely controlled by my flesh, and the result was selfish ambition. When God gripped my heart with the message of His grace, it took a while for me to recognize the temptation to simply Christianize my ambitions. Slowly, He has taught me the lesson of John the Baptist: "I must decrease, and He must increase."

But when I read Phil Vischer's quote I was caught off guard. He's absolutely right of course - pursuing God is more important than pursuing impact. He asks us to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness - not our impact! He doesn't need my ministry for Him more than I need Him. Yet sometimes it's easy to give into the temptation that some ministry or other - a phone call, an email, a blog post - needs to be prioritized over intimacy with Him.

Of course, balance is called for because sometimes we can get legalistic and miss a Divine appointment just to check off a box. I'm not saying that God will never prompt me to interrupt my quiet time to minister to someone. But the key is listening to His Spirit. He wants me present with Him - in intimate relationship. My husband and I have a weekly date - he doesn't want to spend it watching me do dishes even if I tell him it's for him. I talk to my mom on the phone frequently - she cherishes those times when I'm not doing something else in the background. Just being present with Him is part of seeking Him. It helps me reject the pride that says I need to minister more than I need to be ministered to.

What I learn from this "typical Christian" is that the biggest impact I will have will be the one that I don't even realize I'm making. God is doing amazing things in the "Global South" - the non-western part of the church. He's using ordinary people to reach entire people groups, just because they pray passionately, share His word faithfully, and trust Him implicitly. The simplicity of it all is beautiful.

So often in the West we allow our plans and programs to take the place of His Spirit. We allow our desire for impact and vision to turn into a desire to be in the "inner circle" and to feel significant. That wasn't the example of Jesus. He went to the outcasts. The poor. The suffering. We are called to join Him "outside the camp". It might not look very impactful. But it will be Kingdom-centered, and when we seek Him enough to join Him there, the impact will be more than we could ever imagine. And when we simply read His Word and obey it fully, we will find indeed that His revelation goes beyond anything we could ever envision.

Monday, October 24, 2011

"Carried by His Constant Grace"

(Heb. 4:13-16) And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

I can't stop thinking about God's grace today.

A new worship song we sang at church (see below) has captured my heart with its reminder of His faithfulness. Listening to it about a dozen times today alone I find myself reflecting most on one line: "Carried by His constant grace". And that reminds me of a lesson He taught me last year.

My dear friend and pastor's wife was teaching through Hebrews and had to be out so she asked me to teach on Hebrews 4. I've long been convinced, like Beth Moore says, that God called me to teach because I have so much to learn. Out of that night's study, the biggest lesson was the one God wrote on this teacher's heart.

Hebrews 4:13-16 above fit into the context of a chapter that teaches us about entering His rest. Only after we enter His rest can we embrace Him as our faithful high priest. We have confidence to draw near and receive mercy and grace when we come through Christ, not works. But once we draw near, we find something that is so intimate, so precious, that it's hard to imagine.

He was fully God, but also fully man. In His humanity, His incarnation, He faced every temptation and overcame by the power of the Holy Spirit in His life. And by drawing near, the passage says, we will find "mercy and grace" to help when we need it most.
The help is in times of need, of weakness, of humanity. We get a rich understanding when we compare Hebrews 4:16 with 1:14 and 2:18. In Hebrews 1:14 "help" actually means “minister” or “render service”; this same word is used to refer to disciples and to practical acts of service. In Hebrews 2:18 "help" means “succor”, help in the idea of relief or rescue. But "help" as in Hebrews 4:16 is used ONLY twice in the New Testament, the other time in Acts 27:17:

(Acts 27:17) After they had hoisted it up, they used supporting cables [literally = helps] in undergirding the ship; and fearing that they might run aground on the shallows of Syrtis, they let down the sea anchor and in this way let themselves be driven along.

John MacArthur describes this: “They would throw ropes around during the midst of the storm. throwing ropes around and securing and tightening and...with winches, to literally tighten the boards together so the whole ship wouldn't fall apart.” In classical Greek this word was used of the device used to make a ship secure, to help in times like Paul experienced.

And the author of Hebrews uses that same word, a word that gives the picture of making a ship secure by supporting cables, to describe the help God gives when we are tempted.

What are our supporting cables? Mercy and grace. Mercy is not getting what we deserve. Grace is getting what we don’t deserve.

Jesus comes to our aid to relieve and rescue us from temptation – He knows what it is like. When the temptation builds, He provides the way out. (1 Cor. 10:13) However, there are other times when we need more than a way out. We need to be held together! We need to be saved from falling apart due to our weakness. In those times He wraps His “supporting cables” around us to give us the two things we need most when we come face to face with our weaknesses: Mercy and grace.

I know God’s grace is there for my temptation – but sometimes I think my weaknesses don’t deserve it. Sometimes weaknesses aren’t even sins – physical illness; limitations due to disability; fatigue from having too many toddlers pulling at you all day; the demands of work and family life. At those times, I don’t just need “succor”. I need His supporting cables of mercy and grace to hoist me up out of myself so I can see the throne of grace – the throne where He waits with nailscarred hands to welcome me to His table.

Even after salvation, even walking in freedom and wholeness and obedience, we still have weaknesses – physical and emotional, sometimes spiritual. Paul had them – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 records what he learned:

(7) Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! (8) Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. (9) And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (10) Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. - (2Cr 12:7-10 NASB)

We can be strong when weak, because He supports us. In the storms of life, He puts His supporting cables around us, lifts us up, and undergirds us with mercy and grace. Baldwin Hall Bible Study describes it this way: “For those who have trusted Christ for salvation, mercy and grace are available in these tempests. Instead of being beaten by the waves and taken away to isolation in the deep, the grace of God secures us in place. A rope has been tied to our boat to secure us so we do not drift away in the storm. We are helpless on our own, but the grace of God keeps us from sinking or wandering away. His grace does not promise that the storms will not come, only that He sovereignly keeps us through them.”

Scripture says that David was a man after God’s own heart. We see a picture of this type of help in weakness in David’s dealings with Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth. Mephibosheth was crippled in both feet – 2 Sam. 4:4 says he was lame. He couldn’t walk. Here’s the story from 2 Samuel 9:

(1) Then David said, "Is there yet anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan's sake?" (2) Now there was a servant of the house of Saul whose name was Ziba, and they called him to David; and the king said to him, "Are you Ziba?" And he said, "I am your servant." (3) The king said, "Is there not yet anyone of the house of Saul to whom I may show the kindness of God?" And Ziba said to the king, "There is still a son of Jonathan who is crippled in both feet." (4) So the king said to him, "Where is he?" And Ziba said to the king, "Behold, he is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel in Lo-debar." (5) Then King David sent and brought him from the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, from Lo-debar. (6) Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan the son of Saul, came to David and fell on his face and prostrated himself. And David said, "Mephibosheth." And he said, "Here is your servant!" (7) David said to him, "Do not fear, for I will surely show kindness to you for the sake of your father Jonathan, and will restore to you all the land of your grandfather Saul; and you shall eat at my table regularly." (8) Again he prostrated himself and said, "What is your servant, that you should regard a dead dog like me?" (9) Then the king called Saul's servant Ziba and said to him, "All that belonged to Saul and to all his house I have given to your master's grandson. (10) "You and your sons and your servants shall cultivate the land for him, and you shall bring in the produce so that your master's grandson may have food; nevertheless Mephibosheth your master's grandson shall eat at my table regularly." Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants. (11) Then Ziba said to the king, "According to all that my lord the king commands his servant so your servant will do." So Mephibosheth ate at David's table as one of the king's sons. (12) Mephibosheth had a young son whose name was Mica. And all who lived in the house of Ziba were servants to Mephibosheth. (13) So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate at the king's table regularly. Now he was lame in both feet. - (2Sa 9:1-13 NASB)

Verse 5 is key to our point. David sent and “brought him” to the palace. The word used here is used in a form that can literally mean “carry”. Since Mephibosheth was lame, someone likely did carry him, quite literally, to the king’s table. This reminds me of Deut. 33:26-27: “There is none like the God is Jeshurun who rides the heavens to your help, and through the skies in His majesty. The eternal God is a dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”

A dwelling place. John 14 invites us to join Him and promises He will make His abode with us. Through the Holy Spirit, He does just that. When that happens, we are at rest in Him. We have His everlasting arms underneath us. One is Mercy – not getting what we deserve. The other is Grace – getting what we don’t deserve.

That’s the thought I want us to close with. Entering God’s rest happens by faith; the rest results in heart obedience; and we are carried along in that rest by relationship. When we enter His rest, we have the assurance of knowing that no matter how weak we are, His grace and mercy sustain us. We are always welcome at the throne of grace … even if He has to carry us there Himself.

"Carried by His constant grace." Consider that truth as you worship Him for His faithfulness tonight.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Fountains and People Groups

(Psalm 87:1-7 NIV)
(1) Of the Sons of Korah. A psalm. A song. He has set his foundation on the holy mountain;
(2) the LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.
(3) Glorious things are said of you, O city of God: Selah
(4) "I will record Rahab and Babylon among those who acknowledge me--Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush --and will say, 'This one was born in Zion.'"
(5) Indeed, of Zion it will be said, "This one and that one were born in her, and the Most High himself will establish her."
(6) The LORD will write in the register of the peoples: "This one was born in Zion." Selah
(7) As they make music they will sing, "All my fountains are in you."

Every year when I read through Psalms, this one sneaks up on me.

David and the other psalmists love to recall God's faithfulness to Israel, and so many of the Psalms in essence form a worship history of that nation. Other Psalms are forward-looking, Messianic in nature, looking forward to a perfect king who will reign in righteousness and justice. Many are very personal, reminding the author and us that God cares about the details of our lives as well, letting us know that our immediate needs are not lost in the midst of His big-picture purposes.

And then there is Psalm 87.

In Psalm 87 we learn that God has a special book. We often learn early in our walk that he has the "Lamb's book of life" recording the names of every individual who trusts in Jesus for salvation, and books recording the deeds every person has committed, whether good or bad. But the sons of Korah describe another book: "the register of the peoples."  "Peoples" here is a word that is used to refer to different tribes, people with the same kinsmen or family members, or other similar features. We might say, "people groups".

Think abou that. God keeps a book in which He registers those people groups who are "born in Zion" - those who come to know Him for who He truly is. Those who are reborn. Those who know Him. The sons of Korah even list some specific "people groups" outside of Israel whom God will record in his book when specific individuals from that group come to Him. The individual's name goes in the Lamb's Book of Life, and his or her people group is recorded in the Register of the Peoples.

Matthew 24:14 records Jesus saying "And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come." Again, "nations" is a word that refers not to political entities but to people groups - ethne,from which we get our word ethnic. Jesus says He won't be coming back until all people groups hear the Good News. Why? Revelation 7:9 tells us:

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands.

He will have some from every single people group around the throne. They will be worshipping. As Psalm 87:7 records, they will know Him as the source of all their fountains. The King who is the Fountain will be their focus - and ours. It will happen because he is faithful to His Word. And every sacrifice you are making today, every bit of struggle and every late night prayer, everything you have given up for the sake of the Kingdom, will pale in comparison. It will be worth it.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Meekness and blessing: (Sermon on the Mount #3)

"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." Matthew 5:5

With these words Jesus turned the expectations of the Zealots of his day upside down.

Anticipating the coming of Messiah, the Zealots expected a political leader. They taught and led others to expect someone who would lead them in an overthrow of Roman rule. Living under occupied rule, they anticipated the day they would "inherit" the land. Many were ready and willing to join in what they anticipated would be a physical battle.

Speaking to His disciples - at least one of whom was a Zealot - in the hearing of the larger crowd, Jesus explained that the path to inheriting the land did not lie in military conquest. Instead, those blessed with this inheritance would be individuals characterized by meekness (also translated gentleness) - a meekness that Jesus modeled.

What is meekness? The Greek word praotes literally means "mildness of spirit; gentleness of disposition." Zodhiates expands upon this definition and the balance needed to accurately understand its interpretation:

        Praotes (Zodhiates) – “Primarily it does not denote outward expression of feeling but an inward grace of the soul, calmness toward God in particular. It is the acceptance of God’s dealings with us, considering them as good….However, praotes encompasses expressing wrath toward the sin of man as demonstrated by the Lord Jesus….that virtue which stands between two extremes: (1) uncontrollable and unjustified anger and (2) not becoming angry at all no matter what takes place around you.”

Praotes was used in classical Greek to mean essentially mild or gentle. Aristotle defines it as “the mean between stubborn anger and that negativeness of character which is incapable of even righteous indignation.” However, while classical Greek used this word to mean outward conduct only, the Biblical usage refers primarily to an inward quality related toward God. Essentially, A.T. Robertson notes, “The meekness of the Christian springs from a sense of the inferiority of the creature to the Creator, and especially of the sinful creature to the holy God.” Kay Arthur summarizes: "At the heart of meekness is trust in the sovereignty of God."

Why would persons with this trait be blessed to "inherit the earth"? Praotes is a balanced power or strength that comes from submitting to God’s will. It is that attribute which enables us to handle responsibly the authority God has given us, because we are submitted to His authority. Praotes reflects that aspect of love which does not seek its own; instead, it is entirely focused on the will of God and the good of others. Jesus drives home the point that only those who are prepared to seek God's will and focus on the needs of others are true leaders.

Most of us aren't seeking military conquest, but we can still experience the blessings of meekness. Remember the "prayer of Jabez" popularity a few years back? Jesus' challenge to those who prayed that prayer in expectation of success is that true spiritual victory comes to those whose hearts are meek.

Meekness has been described as complete surrender to God’s will and way; not fighting God; and having strength under control. The word picture frequently given is that of a horse which is broken and able to be ridden - we call such a horse "gentle".

Meekness does not mean having a "martyr" syndrome; parading selflessness to impress others; or becoming a doormat. In fact, meekness doesn’t withhold strength in an effort to be meek; rather, the ability to be meek reveals strength. It includes a righteous anger at what is wrongly done to others. Walking under the control of the Holy Spirit, meekness  can be manifest in a reaction to evil. This is anger "at the right time, with the right people, for the right reason" (Kay Arthur).  

Scripture tells us much about meekness in the other passages in the New Testament where praotes is used. (Many of these passages use "gentleness"; the original word in these cases is praotes.)

·               We should always be willing to teach others in a spirit of meekness.

o   1 Corinthians 4:21 What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?

o   2 Corinthians 10:1 I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ--I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!

o   Galatians 6:1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

o    2 Timothy 2:24-25 And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,

 ·        Meekness should characterize relationships in the body of Christ.

o   Ephesians 4:1-2 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,

o   Colossians 3:12-13 Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

·        Meekness should characterize our relationship to unbelievers.

o   Titus 3:1-3  (1) Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work,  (2)  to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.  (3)  For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.

o   1 Peter 3:15  but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,

·        Meekness is teachable. We should receive God’s word with “meekness” – humbly submitting to it.

o   James 1:21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

·        Meekness has a quiet but powerful impact on what others see in us.

o   James 3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.

o   1 Peter 3:4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.
Ultimately, meekness is blessed by looking beyond the present to the future. Matthew 5:5 Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth

Gentleness is an attribute Jesus spoke very plainly about. From His own words we learn that His gentleness gives us rest and that He comes as a humble, or gentle, king. But we see the fullness of praotes so clearly in His incarnation, as described by Paul. In fixing our eyes on Jesus we learn principles of incarnational meekness for our own lives.
o   Meekness is others-focused.

§   (3) Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  (4)  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

o   Meekness does not grasp, but serves.

§   (5)  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,  (6)  who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  (7)  but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 

o   Meekness is humbly obedient.

§  (8)  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

o   Meekness has a kingdom focus.

§   (9)  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,  (10)  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  (11)  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

What about in the lives of ordinary humans? John the Baptist was considered “great” by Jesus and yet his ministry was extraordinarily brief and he ended up dead because of his adherence to truth. Through John’s life we can see some more principles of meekness (John 1:6-39; 3:23-30; Matthew 11:2-11).

·        John accepted the call God gave him.

o   (1:6)  There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  (7)  He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.  (8)  He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.  (9)  The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.  (10)  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.  (11)  He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.  (12)  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,  (13)  who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.  (14)  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

·        John knew Who was of first important.

o    (15)  (John bore witness about him, and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'")  (16)  And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.  (17)  For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  (18)  No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known. 

·        John rejected opportunities for self-glorification

o   (19)  And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?"  (20)  He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, "I am not the Christ."  (21)  And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the Prophet?" And he answered, "No."  (22)  So they said to him, "Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?"  (23)  He said, "I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord,' as the prophet Isaiah said."  (24)  (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.)  (25)  They asked him, "Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?"  (26)  John answered them, "I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know,  (27)  even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie."  (28)  These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.  (29)  The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!  (30)  This is he of whom I said, 'After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.'  (31)  I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel."  (32)  And John bore witness: "I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.  (33)  I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.'  (34)  And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God."

·        John did not withhold his own disciples from Jesus – he yielded them to the greater kingdom good.

o    (35)  The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God!"  (37)  The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.  (38)  Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, "What are you seeking?" And they said to him, "Rabbi" (which means Teacher), "where are you staying?"  (39)  He said to them, "Come and you will see." So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.

·        John willingly stepped out of the picture so the focus would be on Jesus.

o    (3:23) John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized  (24)  (for John had not yet been put in prison).  (25)  Now a discussion arose between some of John's disciples and a Jew over purification.  (26)  And they came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness--look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him."  (27)  John answered, "A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.  (28)  You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, 'I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.'  (29)  The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.  (30)  He must increase, but I must decrease."

·        Faced with death, John didn’t expect deliverance – he only sought assurance.

o   (Matthew 11:2) Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples  (3)  and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?"  (4)  And Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see:  (5)  the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.  (6)  And blessed is the one who is not offended by me."

Meekness usually goes against our natural inclinations. How can we become authentically meek?

·        Submit to God’s work in your life.
Remember the definition of meekness - submission to God's will is at the heart of meekness.
·        Deepen humility by beholding the glory of God.
o   2 Corinthians 3:18  And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
o   Humility – tapeinos – means modesty toward self and piety toward God; arriving at a correct estimate of ourselves (not falsely low or high); results from emptying ourselves of self. It is the correct estimation of God which results in a correct estimation of ourselves. Humility will make submission to God's sovereignty possible.
·        Learn to be teachable by studying how Biblical characters dealt with their own need to learn. True teachability is obedient to the lesson.

o   Acts 18:24-28 - Apollos had to be taught the word “more accurately” and learned, then went on to share with others
o   1 Chron. 13:1-14 and 15:1-15 - David reacted in fear and anger but found instruction in God’s word and obeyed
o   The Biblical meek response to tragedy or failure is to search God’s word. It's ok to ask questions - just seek the answers while sitting right at His feet.

·        Examine your willingness to teach others gently.

o   “God’s teachers are not called to wield the Word of God like a baseball bat. The Sword of the Spirit is to injure Satan, not the body of Christ.” – Beth Moore
o   1 Thessalonians 2 – Paul described his ministry in Thessalonica as one in which he came to them "gently". 
Around the world, missionaries seek to practice “incarnational ministry” - to walk as Jesus did among the people they are serving. Think of your own ministry context (family, job, church, or other relationships). How can the principles of incarnational meekness in Jesus’ life help you as you seek to make an impact for the kingdom of God? Ultimately, meekness is the path to more than we can imagine. Dietrich Bonhoeffer paints a picture for us:

God does not forsake the earth; he made it, He sent His Son to it, and on it He built His church. Thus a begining has already been made in this present age. A sign has been given. The powerless have here and now received a plot of earth, for the have the church and its fellowship, its goods, its brothers and sisters, in the midst of persectuions even to the length of the cross. The renewal of the earth begins at Golgotha, where the Meek One died, and from thence it will spread.

Cost of Discipleship, p. 100  

Saturday, October 15, 2011

An Anointed Life: Living in the"Musts" of the Spirit

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10

There are so many good works out there that need to be done. But there are specific good works that God has prepared for you.

Once our spiritual eyes are opened, we begin to see that our relationship with God through Jesus extends beyond the obvious personal blessings.  Indeed, His love compels us to be a blessing to others through the love He has poured out in our hearts. Once we realize that, we initially tend to see the world as an endless sea of need. It can become overwhelming.

If you are struggling today with a specific aspect of ministry, I hope that something God has taught me recently helps you like it has helped me: There is a difference between "should", "could", and "must".

Some of us are wired such that our tendency is to the “shoulds”. I’m not talking about Biblical commands – we’ll discuss those momentarily. Instead, I’m talking about the tendency to take on needs God intends someone else to meet. If you’ve walked with the Lord very long you know what I’m talking about: we all have those things we’ve done because we felt guilty not doing them. The pastor calls for nursery workers three weeks in a row, and you volunteer because you feel bad for him that nobody has responded. You see the pictures of hungry kids in Africa and write a check to the advertised organization just so you feel you did something about it. And so on.

God sees your heart in all of this, and I’m a firm believer that He honors the intent of our hearts even when it wasn’t necessarily a good work that He laid out for us. He redeems everything done for His glory – even when we take on burdens He didn’t lay on us. I’ve seen this in my own life. My three failed attempts at children’s ministry taught me a lot – first, that I’m not called to children’s ministry! But God also used those seasons to teach me how to communicate His word in simple language and to experience up-close what childlike faith looks like in practice. Those children didn’t doubt God could do anything! To this day I feel strengthened when I know some of the children in our church are praying for a person or a situation, because I know that they are praying faith-filled prayers. Children’s ministry was definitely a “should” for me – but not a wasted one. Nothing done for His glory is ever wasted.

Another group of us have a tendency toward the “coulds”. These are the idea people, and boy can I ever relate! I fall squarely into this group. When I’m passionate about something I can have an idea a minute. I love brainstorming sessions with others who have missional hearts. The problem, of course, is that I can’t do everything that I “could” do and expect to do it well. I have long list of ideas that have popped up over the years – teaching ESL to immigrants; writing and publishing Bible studies and devotionals; taking additional classes; becoming fluent in a foreign language; finding a job that utilizes my degree; books to read and Bible studies to do. All “good works.” All things I “could” do. But obviously not all things God has laid out for me to do.

Again, “coulds” are not all bad. Seeing a need and then asking “What if we …” is a great way to see what God might be placing on your church’s heart. Missional churches will often see God moving on the hearts of many in the congregation in a similar direction. The challenge for leadership is to discern the specifics of that direction to discern the collective “good works” God has for that congregation. Similarly, our individual challenge is to discern the specifics of the “good works” God has prepared for us individually.

The Apostle Paul faced such a challenge on his second missionary journey. Luke records the process:  
“And they passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and when they had come to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a certain man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ And when he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.” Acts 16:6-10 (NASB)
Paul and his team were led by the Spirit. They discerned in some way the Holy Spirit prohibiting them from entering Asia and then Bithynia. We’re not sure how they knew the Spirit was not permitting those movements – clearly they at least attempted to enter Bithynia before they knew God was saying no. But they very clearly recognized in Paul’s vision a “must” of the Spirit – something that God was calling them to do, something that they had to say yes to in order to be obedient and continue walking in the leading of the Spirit. Scripture tells us they obeyed “immediately”.

“Walking in the Spirit” includes walking in what He has called and anointed us to do – not living in the shoulds and the coulds, but in the call. The "musts". When God calls us to a task, He fully equips us for that task. He gives us the spiritual gifts, the team, the provision, and ultimately the anointing of the Holy Spirit to do that task. Some “good works” are for a lifetime – for example, if you are married, God has called you to that spouse and so the call to be a picture of Christ and the church will always be upon you and your spouse. Other “good works” are for a season – parenting toddlers, working at a full-time job, teaching a Bible study group – and in that season we find the grace to do the good work God sets before us.

So how can we grow in discernment to know the “musts” of the Spirit for us individually and corporately, and to know when a season has ended and a new calling awaits? Scripture gives us several principles but there are just a few I want to highlight:

·         Stay in the Word – all of it. Probably the best way to grow in discernment is to consistently read and study Scripture. It’s important to read the entire Bible, because God has revealed Himself in every segment of Scripture. We will have an unbalanced understanding of who He is and His heart and His character unless we read it all. It’s also important to study Scripture – take more time to go in-depth. This can happen through sermons, Bible study groups, and individual studies.

As you stay in the Word, you will grow in your understanding of God’s character and begin to recognize His voice. You’ll also have a growing discernment of what is NOT from Him. For example, over time I’ve come to know that God goes to great lengths to remove fear from His children. He wants us to fear nothing but Him – and that is a respectful awe rather than an anxious fear. I’ve come to know that when I’m sensing something that is accompanied by a spirit of fearful anxiety, I’m not hearing from the Lord. Either the enemy or my own flesh is trying to get me distracted by fear. When I discern a caution that is from the Lord, it comes with a sense of purpose and determination, but not fear. Sometimes I have to battle my own fears within that context, but I always have a sense that God has prepared me for that battle by reminding me that HE is in the situation.

The other really cool thing that happens when you take in the Word through multiple streams is that you’ll see a consistency of the message. You’ll read a passage in your daily reading, then pick up your Bible study and have a similar theme or even the same scripture, then go to Bible study and get another connection to that specific word, and then the next Sunday your pastor will preach on it. This doesn’t happen every time, of course, but often when I’m seeking discernment and I want to know undoubtedly that the voice I hear is God’s, He’ll line all these sources up in a way I never could have orchestrated. This is sometimes called the rhema word of God – it’s a word frequently used in Scripture for specific words of God (as opposed to logos which is generally used for the entire collection of Scripture and is also used to refer to Jesus as God’s Word). It’s a way that God makes a passage or Biblical principle “jump out” so that I know He is guiding me a certain direction.

·         Act on His Word. Remember when we talked about “shoulds” above? As I indicated, those “shoulds” come from our own flesh – a sense of guilt, legalism, or even a very strong gift of mercy that we are still learning to direct to the specific works God has planned for us. Obedience to Scripture, however, is not legalism or a “should”. It’s a “must”. As we walk out His Word and live in obedience, we not only undermine the enemy’s attempts to distract us but we increase our ability to hear His voice and discern in our spirit the “musts” of the calling He has for us. Paul talked about the connection between how we walk and discernment:

“…you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:8-10).

“Trying to learn” means “to discover by examination.” In other words, as we “walk as children of light” – which Paul has just told them how to do in Ephesians 4 – we discover by a process of examination what is pleasing to the Lord. As we increasingly know what pleases Him, our discernment continues to grow.

·         Pray. Through prayer, God will utilize His Word and His Spirit to impress upon us what specific good works He has for us. We will learn specifically HOW to walk out the  more general commands of Scripture such as "love your neighbor". We will also learn to know shoulds and coulds from musts.

I’ve learned to take my list of “coulds” to the Lord and seek Him for which tasks to pursue, which to leave on the list for continued prayer, and which to remove. This past summer I applied for a position in another department on campus. It was a perfect example of a “could” – the position utilized my degree, fit my strengths and personality, and offered a nice salary bump without any increase in hours. I knew I could do that job, and do it well. I eagerly applied and had a phone interview. Then the wheels started turning slowly, and I spent significant time in prayer. After about 10 days I knew I had heard from the Lord: I needed to remove myself from consideration. God wasn’t finished with me in my current position. He confirmed that through my husband. With great peace and joy I withdrew my name from a job that only a couple of weeks earlier I had been excited to pursue. Since that time I’ve seen multiple evidences confirming that position was definitely a “could”, not a “must”.

Walking in the Spirit, seeking the continual infilling of the Spirit, will also have a tremendous impact on our desires. While our natural hearts are deceitful, our regenerated heart, filled with His Spirit, is created to beat in unity with His heart. As we grow in the Word, obedience, and prayer, we begin to recognize those areas where our heart beats just a little stronger because it is aligned with His. We begin to see threads throughout our walk with Him that reveal some of the uniqueness that He has placed within us – clues to those ‘good works’ He has called us to do. We know when He is putting an excitement in our heart. Then when we are in the middle of that good work, and we know we have His Spirit upon us empowering us for service, we can look up and sense His pleasure - His smile upon us, saying “Well done, good and faithful servant.” And we know we have His anointing, so we look up and give all the glory to Him.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Update: Execution Order Issued. In the presence of God's people

Here's the latest as of today 2/23:

Previously published 10/10/2011:

Tonight, the life of Yousef Naderkhani of Iran is in jeopardy. In a natural sense, the decision lies in the hands of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of the country. But God is the one who puts leaders in power and all authority comes from Him, so we know that ultimately, Yousef's life is in the hands of no man, but God alone.

Yousef's crime? He has refused to renounce faith in Jesus Christ. Initially imprisoned for advocating the right of Christians to educate their children from a Christian perspective, he was soon charged with apostasy and given three chances to recant, which he refused to do. (A summary of the case can be found here.) Further charges were added after the death sentence was granted - false accusations. No surprise, since Jesus told us this would happen and advised us to rejoice when it occurred.

We need to pray for him. Pastor Yousef is a face of the persecuted church. International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church is Nov. 13, but Scripture admonishes us that when one part of the body hurts we all hurt - so we need to pray for Pastor Yousef now. But how?

So often we approach the topic of persecution with either fear or awe, either holding the persecuted church at arm's length or glorifying the role persecution plays in a church. Once we address some of the myths surrounding persecution, we begin to see more clearly how the body of Christ should work together at a global level. We begin to understand the importance of prayer for those undergoing persecution. Even when we become convinced that we are supposed to pray for persecuted believers, we are often at a loss to know HOW to pray. Making matters worse in western culture is that for the most part, we have never been persecuted in any serious manner. We often struggle to relate.

We also live in a culture that increasingly glorifies death. Song lyrics glamorize death and even suicide; euthanasia is called "mercy killing," and it's not unheard of to hear the words "abortion" and "compassionate" used in the same sentence. We forget that Biblically, death is an enemy - a foe conquered by Christ to be sure, but an enemy nonetheless, one that won't be fully destroyed until the resurrection of our bodies. For Christians death is nothing to fear, but it does result in the end of a life poured out for the glory of God among the presence of God's people in what the Psalmist calls "the land of the living". Death ushers us into the presence of God, but except for those few whose works live on in various forms of media, it ends our opportunity to worship with and minister to other believers on this earth and to reach those who haven't heard the Gospel with the message of the cross.

As I've prayed for Pastor Yousef, God has put several Scriptures on my heart with a consistent theme: The continuation of ministry - specifically, praising God in the presence of God's people. I've listed those Scripture-based prayers below, and trust that God will guide you in adding some of them to the ways you are praying for Pastor Yousef. (If you have time, watch the music video as well - such an encouraging song about worship and persecution!)

"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones" is Biblical, of course, but it doesn't mean God cherishes our deaths. It means that death is precious in God's eyes in the same way that rare and beautiful stones are precious. He allows death for His Godly ones only when our purpose on this earth is completely finished - when our praise on earth has been fully poured out He ushers us into His presence to worship Him forever. I encourage you to read Psalm 116 below and see the full context of this beautiful verse - deliverance from death. And then pray this, and the passages below, for Pastor Yousef. Let's agree in prayer for death to remain far from him until every good work God has planned for him has been fulfilled.

Pray for Pastor Yousef:
  • That God will take what is meant for evil and turn it to good, and that many would be saved. (Genesis 50:20)
  • That God will send angels to minister to him. (1 Kings 19:3-9).
  • That God will open his eyes to see the spiritual forces at work, and the power God has unleashed on his behalf. (2 Kings 6:15-17)That God will deliver him to show His supremacy. (2 Kings 19:1-19)
  • That God would defend the cause of truth and rescue His oppressed. (Psalm 74:21-23)
  • That he will proclaim God's power to his children, the next generation. (Psalm 71:18)
  • That he will praise God in the presence of the saints once again (Psalm 116, below).
  • That He will have a strong sense of God's presence (Isaiah 43).
  • That God will enable him to rejoice in the face of false accusations and persecution, and to focus on his heavenly reward. (Matthew 5:10-12)
  • That God will calm any doubts and fears, and show him the evidence that Jesus is who He says He is. (Luke 7:18-23)
  • That he will be aware just how strongly Jesus identifies with persecuted believers (Acts 9:1-4).
  • That the church will be strong in prayer,united, bold, and that nominal believers would be "all in" and false members revealed; for a strengthening, purifying, unifying time for the church so that he won't have to worry about them if he is to be killed. (Acts 12:1-5)
  • That he will be delivered for continued fruitful labor with his congregation (Philippians 1:19-26)
  • That he will be delivered from these evil men and that God's word will speed ahead and be honored in his future ministry (2 Thessalonians 3:1-2).
Psalm 116
Thanksgiving for Deliverance from Death.
1 I love the LORD, because He hears
My voice and my supplications.
2 Because He has inclined His ear to me,
Therefore I shall call upon Him as long as I live.
3 The cords of death encompassed me
And the terrors of Sheol came upon me;
I found distress and sorrow.
4 Then I called upon the name of the LORD:
“O LORD, I beseech You, save my life!”
5 Gracious is the LORD, and righteous;
Yes, our God is compassionate.
6 The LORD preserves the simple;
I was brought low, and He saved me.
7 Return to your rest, O my soul,
For the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.
8 For You have rescued my soul from death,
My eyes from tears,
My feet from stumbling.
9 I shall walk before the LORD
In the land of the living.
10 I believed when I said,
“I am greatly afflicted.”
11 I said in my alarm,
“All men are liars.”
12 What shall I render to the LORD
For all His benefits toward me?
13 I shall lift up the cup of salvation
And call upon the name of the LORD.
14 I shall pay my vows to the LORD,

Oh may it be in the presence of all His people.

15 Precious in the sight of the LORD
Is the death of His godly ones.
16 O LORD, surely I am Your servant,
I am Your servant, the son of Your handmaid,
You have loosed my bonds.
17 To You I shall offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
And call upon the name of the LORD.
18 I shall pay my vows to the LORD,
Oh may it be in the presence of all His people,
19 In the courts of the LORD’S house,
In the midst of you, O Jerusalem.
Praise the LORD!