Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Mary's Song: A Sure-Fire Way to Get Favor with God!

Two of  my favorite passages in Scripture are the songs that two different women of faith sing when they know they are going to have a baby.  Familiar is Mary's song in Luke 1:

Luke 1:46-55
(46)  And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,
(47)  And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
(48)  For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
(49)  For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.
(50)  And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.
(51)  He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
(52)  He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
(53)  He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.
(54)  He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;
(55)  As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.
The other, which sounds very similar, and which Mary may have been thinking of, comes from Hannah, after her prayer begging God to give her a child was answered.
1st Samuel 2:1-10
(1)  And Hannah prayed, and said, My heart rejoiceth in the LORD, mine horn is exalted in the LORD: my mouth is enlarged over mine enemies; because I rejoice in thy salvation.
(2)  There is none holy as the LORD: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God.
(3)  Talk no more so exceeding proudly; let not arrogancy come out of your mouth: for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.
(4)  The bows of the mighty men are broken, and they that stumbled are girded with strength.
(5)  They that were full have hired out themselves for bread; and they that were hungry ceased: so that the barren hath born seven; and she that hath many children is waxed feeble.
(6)  The LORD killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up.
(7)  The LORD maketh poor, and maketh rich: he bringeth low, and lifteth up.
(8)  He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory: for the pillars of the earth are the LORD'S, and he hath set the world upon them.
(9)  He will keep the feet of his saints, and the wicked shall be silent in darkness; for by strength shall no man prevail.
(10)  The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces; out of heaven shall he thunder upon them: the LORD shall judge the ends of the earth; and he shall give strength unto his king, and exalt the horn of his anointed.
You know one of the primary virtues about God I see both women acknowledging in these prayers and songs?  How God lifts up the poor and puts down the rich, causes the barren to bear, and the mother of many children to wax feeble.  How He exalts the poor, those of low degree, the beggar, the feet of His saints, fills the hungry, sends away the rich empty, breaks the bows of the mighty men, scatters the proud, puts down the mighty from their seats, and breaks His adversaries in pieces.

Isn't that epic?

God is a God who looks out for the poor, the despised, the down-trodden, the weak, and lifts them up to a place of honor.  It's what every great story describes, and the makings of every epic that has ever been told.  There's something in our hearts that loves the old story, because God loves it!

But bummer for those who aren't poor and suffering, huh?

If you fall into the above category of being poor and suffering, rejoice, because God is on your side!

If you don't see yourself in that place, living in wealthy, suburban America where all your needs are essentially provided for though, you might be wondering about my title: A Sure-Fire Way to Get Favor with God.  After all, Mary found favor with God.  And that should be something we all desire.  But according to these poetic praises, He mostly finds favor with the helpless that are naturally that way from their circumstances.  What if we don't see ourselves in that place?

Before I go on, I want to clarify.  Just because someone is rich or in a position of honor at this current time doesn't mean they're beyond the reach of God's favor.  There's a reason we all love the simple picture of the manger scene, isn't there?  Despite it being Biblically inaccurate and historically flawed, the principle it communicates rings true with us.

I could be wrong, but I think what we like about it is that it combines two classes of people.  The poor and lowly shepherds and the rich, powerful, wise magi meet together at this stable to worship Jesus.  Both found favor with God.  But there's a simple reason found in the attitude of humility in both.


Another word to describe 'the favor of God' is 'grace,'  I didn't use it initially because I think sometimes in Christendom something turns off in our brains when we hear the word 'grace.'  It's been used so often in pulpits and songs and Bible studies, and we think of it as the means of our salvation that's offered freely that we don't have to do anything for, so we don't really think about it except to thank God for it.  Favor with God or "grace," however, isn't something we always sense, even after we believe we've been saved.  But did you know the Bible actually describes a way to receive grace that God can't refuse?  True story!  Before you block my blog for blasphemous content though, take a look at a verse that describes exactly who God gives grace to.
Proverbs 3:34 Surely he scorneth the scorners: but he giveth grace unto the lowly.
God gives grace to the lowly.  Sounds very similar to Mary and Hannah's songs of praise, doesn't it?  How does that apply to us?  Peter quotes this verse, and gives our application of it in his first letter.
1st Peter 5:5-7
(5)  Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.
(6)  Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:
(7)  Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.
God gives grace to the lowly or to the "humble,"  That means if we want grace, we need to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God and cast all our care upon Him.  We need to subject ourselves to one another.  If we feel that God is resisting us, we may need to examine our hearts for any vestiges of pride.  Because it's clear that God resists the proud.

James also describes this as a way to deal with conflict in the church and eliminate it...from fightings and quarrelings to favoritism and prejudice.  His answer is this verse to combat our own naturally envious and lustful spirit is this verse from Proverbs.
James 4:6-10 
(6)  But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.
(7)  Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
(8)  Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.
(9)  Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness.
(10)  Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.
There's a very simple reason that I say this is a sure-fire method for obtaining God's favor, or grace.  It's because He promises that He can't resist this spirit.
 Psalm 51:17  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise
 Psalm 34:15-18 The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry.  The face of the LORD is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. The righteous cry, and the LORD heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles. The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.
I know this is a simple post.  But sometimes when life gets complicated I have to go back to the very foundational and simple elements of faith, and what I absolutely know to be true about God beyond a shadow of a doubt.  Whether you're struggling with how to get along with others, or wondering if God despises you because it doesn't seem like He's close to you...examine your heart.  Clothe yourself in humility, fall on your knees, cry out to God, cast all your cares upon Him, and become broken and contrite.  He promises if you draw night to Him, He will draw nigh to you.  Because in order to draw close to God, you have to be humble, and He is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart, and a broken and a contrite heart, God will not despise.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Eternal Bent

Only one life, a few brief years, 
Each with its burdens, hopes, and fears; 
Each with its clays I must fulfill, 
living for self or in His will; 
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, 
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
- C.T. STudd

Sometimes the deepest conversations happen on the way to doughnut shops. You know?

"So what are you looking for in the girl you marry?"

I was just thinking about what I was wanting in a cream-filled doughnut, and suddenly you're asking me to switch gears in my head to talk about this?  Now in all honesty, I do love having friends who ask me deep questions and will challenge me to think through life issues.  But, also in all honesty, if you spring a question like that on me at the spur of the moment you may not get a satisfactory, succinct answer.

I stammered out cliches and verbal pauses and caveats and qualifiers for about ten minutes as my friend patiently waited for my stream-of-consciousness to stop.  Finally, I halted my verbal pausing, and said, "You know, one of the main things that I want is a girl with an eternal bent."

He had been staring out the window (probably to hide his bored expression from me and most likely wishing he had never asked the question), but now he turned his head quizzically and looked at me.  "What do you mean?"

"Well, sometimes people aren't living for anything greater than the here and now.  I want the person I spend the rest of my life with to be motivated by something beyond herself.  You can usually tell when the focus is more on temporal things and things that have to do with living in the here and now...but there's a subtle difference when a person lives his or her life in reference to eternity.  Some people just have a different...I don't know...bent."

He smiled and said, "You know, that's the first intelligent thing you've said in the last ten minutes.  Turn here.  If you get a hot drink with your doughnut it's only $1.39."

For some reason that little phrase echoed in my head for the rest of the evening.  And kept popping up over the next couple weeks.  "An eternal bent."  What's different about people who live their lives with an eternal perspective?  You see different people in history who made a great impact on the world spiritually that I really look up to and respect... C.T. Studd, David Livingstone, Amy Carmichael, Mother Theresa, the Apostle Paul, Hudson Taylor, Brother Andrew, Corrie ten Boom, David Wilkerson...what motivated these men and women of God to do the things they did?  To accomplish what they accomplished?  They had a different perspective than the average college student who wants to go party abroad just to have a good time.  Their motivation was deeper.  More significant.

You ever wonder how the Apostle Paul endured all the things he went through?  And endured with PASSION?  He didn't simply keep a good attitude through all the persecutions and backstabbings and fasting and care for the churches...he kept his purpose and his passion alive!  How did he do that?  He says he was content in all situations, but in the same letter said that he kept pressing forward for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus!  How did he do that?  What did he know that most people don't realize in their fight to survive and have significance?  What was his motivation?   He was content when he was in prison in Rome because he knew he was on the track that God wanted him on.  He was always looking ahead to the next thing like Lystra, Derbe, Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, Rome, Spain!  What was his goal?  What was he working for?  What made his life worth living?  Read the book of Philippians and then explain to me: What motivated such confident passion?

He had a glimpse of something that went far beyond himself.  He had purpose and meaning that OUTLASTED his life here on earth!  Think about that!  He wasn't afraid to die.  In fact, he would have embraced death except for the fact that he thought he could be of more service and benefit to people here on earth. (See Philippians 1:20-26 if you don't believe me.) He gives us his perspective in 2 Corinthians 4.  This is why he didn't give up, didn't lose passion...

2 Corinthians 4:16  For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. 
2 Corinthians 4:17  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; 
2 Corinthians 4:18  While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. 

His outward man was perishing!  This is NOT an empty statement.  Want a sample of some of the things he went through?  In his own words:

  • thrice was I beaten with rods, 
  • once was I stoned, 
  • thrice I suffered shipwreck, 
  • a night and a day I have been in the deep; 
  • in journeyings often, 
  • in perils of waters, 
  • in perils of robbers, 
  • in perils by mine own countrymen, 
  • in perils by the heathen, 
  • in perils in the city, 
  • in perils in the wilderness, 
  • in perils in the sea, 
  • in perils among false brethren; 
  • in weariness 
  • and painfulness, 
  • in watchings often, 
  • in hunger 
  • and thirst, 
  • in fastings often, 
  • in cold 
  • and nakedness..."

What motivated him to endure all that?  Certainly not temporal enjoyment!  His focus couldn't have been on his own pleasure!  He saw these "light afflictions" as he calls them as working towards a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory!  Not only did he not begrudge them... I think he saw them as necessary.  As something that was working towards a greater goal.  Something that tipped the scales so much that these things seemed light in comparison.  You have to have knowledge of something greater in order to see things in this light...you have to have special knowledge, a deeper insight, a secret understanding of something that is to come, otherwise you'll bail at the first sign of any of the things on this list!

What did he understand?  What did he see?  He saw something beyond the temporal.  He didn't look at things that were seen.  He looked towards eternity.  There was something in eternity that motivated him beyond the pressures and troubles and sufferings of this present life!

"For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life." (2 Cor. 5:1-4)

Paul didn't want to be found naked.  Full of the shame of a life that didn't result in any weight of eternal glory.  He desired to be clothed upon because eternity is the only thing that can make sense of this life that we're living and give it any purpose and meaning! The focus towards eternity isn't morbid.  It's looking towards something greater and more lasting.  The focus is so that mortality (the ability to die--living this life the way we're living it) will be swallowed up in REAL life!

What does this look like in our practical, daily lives?  Am I saying that every statement we make should include a reference to eternity?  No, but I am saying that overall, our lives should be lived in the shadow of eternity, not lived as if this is all there is.  Like Moses says in Psalm 90, "teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom."

The list of things that Paul went through was trivial to him. Most of us wouldn't call what he was going through "light affliction".  It's convicting because I've complained louder about my first world problems!

  • "I got this keyboard for my tablet and it won't even work! I have to use the touch screen, for crying out loud!"
  • "Sheesh, I have to wait a long time for the free Wi-Fi to load in this air-conditioned, comfortable coffee shop as I sip my $4 coffee...it's been...what? Half a minute?!"
  • "Man!  First I had too many chips for my dip and now I have too much dip for my chips!"
Anybody feelin' me?

Now don't get me wrong--I'm not saying that every statement we make or everything we think about should be qualified by some statement about eternity.  (e.g. "Well, how is clipping my toenails right now going to affect eternity??")  I'm just saying the general direction of our lives should be colored by an understanding of eternity and with what's really lasting.

After all, we ALL have aspects of both sides of the issue.  We are human and we live here on this earth, so there is a part of everyone that is material, fleshly, and temporal.  And that's necessary.  We don't want to be "so heavenly-minded that we're no earthly good."  But if this life is the only thing we're focusing on, there's a problem.

Deep down, we all have that tug towards eternity.  We all long for purpose and meaning and a successful life, and that's the spiritual/soulish part of us.  The eternal part that knows there something more.  The difference is what our bent is.

Which side determines your decision making?  When you make a decision about whether or not you should laugh at a friend's joke, or treat someone to lunch, or accept an invitation to a party, or give money to the homeless guy on the street who could probably get a job, or decide how you should spend your vacation time, or where you should go to church, or which classes you should take this semester, or which college you should go to, or who you should marry...which side of you is making that decision?  What is your bent?  Is it the spiritual/eternal side?  Or the human/temporal side?  How do you have a successful spiritual life like Paul?  Will your human side enter into some of these decisions?  Absolutely, and rightfully so!  But what is your focus?  What is your bent?

I believe it may very well be a a very subtle difference in our day-to day temporal lives.  A person with a temporal focus and a person with an eternal focus might go to the same church, the same school, work at the same job, interact with the same people, but the overall perspective of living in the light of eternity will make a huge difference in the way we perceive the events of our lives.  Are we marrying someone just because she's physically attractive or because we can make a greater impact towards the kingdom of God together?  Are we studying abroad because we believe we can make a greater impact towards the kingdom of God or because we think it'll benefit as a person as we have a good time?  Are we working at that particular summer camp rather than going on a missions trip because we think it will benefit eternity or because there are cute counselors there and we want to go rock-climbing for free?  What is our bent?  

That's part of the reason Paul gives this admonishment to the redeemed in Colossians 3:

Colossians 3:1  If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. 
Colossians 3:2  Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. 

What are your affections set on right now?  What do you feel love and excitement and passion about?  There's nothing wrong with being excited about simple things in life!  In fact, that can be a great thing!  But will it last throughout eternity?  Why are you excited about that?  What does God feel about what you're affectionate about?
What is your overall purpose?  When your life is over will you have done something that impacted eternity?
God is the only one who can give you a lasting passion.  But you have to seek Him for that.  Ask and it shall be given you, seek and ye shall find, knock and the door shall be opened unto you!

"Delight yourself also in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.  Commit your way to Him.  Trust in Him and He will direct your paths."

You may not know what your purpose is.  You may not know what God is calling you to do to have an eternal impact!  If that's you, I understand!  And I'm willing to submit to you that's alright!  All I can tell you is that if you have been born after the Spirit, please continue to walk in the Spirit!  God's timetable is not our own!  He is more concerned in our character than our calendar, and in our holiness than our happiness!  He's got a plan for you!  He knows right where you're at and right where He wants you to be!  So the answer is: if you are risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God.  What does that mean?  Knowing the triumph of Christ on the cross...the triumph over sin...the triumph over death...the triumph over depression, over suffering, over disease, and sickness and meaninglessness and purposelessness and Hell, seek those things which are above!  Seek those things which are above where Christ sits on the right hand of God in the ultimate position of triumph.  Seek and ye shall find!  Set your affection on those things.  On the things HE values.  Then you will find meaning.  Then you will find purpose.  Then you will find value.  You are dead.  Your life is hid with Christ in God.  That, then, is where you need to seek.

I find this prayer of C.T. Studd becoming my prayer.  It has never been so poignant in my life.  And maybe this will become your prayer too because of the truth it contains.

Give me Father, a purpose deep, 
In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep; 
Faithful and true what e’er the strife, 
Pleasing Thee in my daily life; 
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, 
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
- C. T. Studd

Monday, October 20, 2014

Roots of Bitterness or Love?

There are two verses that stand out as a contrast about roots.

One is Hebrews 12:15: "Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God, lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled."

The other is Ephesians 3:17: "That ye being rooted and grounded in love..."

Do you have a root of bitterness springing up or are you rooted or grounded in love?  My contention is that a root of bitterness cannot survive in the ground of love.  The two are mutually exclusive.

We have a choice to make every day when we're confronted with difficult situations.  People will let us down, hurt us, and treat us insensitively.  And when this happens we can either choose to react in love (even when we don't feel it), or we can allow bitterness to take root by harboring bad feelings towards them.

Love is fertile ground where many things can grow.  Good fruit will come from being rooted and grounded in love and many people will be blessed.  But once a root of bitterness starts growing, it will tangle up your roots in the good ground of love, and many will be defiled as a result.

How do we become rooted in this love in the first place though?

The preceding verses bear out a few clues in Ephesians.

Ephesians 3:14-17 For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,  (15)  Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,  (16)  That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;  (17)  That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,

Paul was praying that God would grant the Ephesians to be strengthened with might by the Spirit of Jesus in the inner man according to the riches of glory, that Christ may dwell in their hearts by faith.

This is further collaborated by his companion epistle to the Colossians.

Col 2:6  As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him:
Col 2:7  Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.

God IS love.  Christ is the ultimate example OF love!  We have to abide in Christ if we are to be rooted and grounded in love because then His love will flow through us.  Without Him, we can do nothing.  But when we're in His presence, we can't help being affected by His love.  After all, that's the first fruit of the Spirit that's mentioned.  What then happens when we're rooted and grounded in love?

Eph 3:17  That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, 
Eph 3:18  May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; 
Eph 3:19  And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. 

Our perspective changes!  Only if we're rooted and grounded in love will we be able to comprehend God at all!  That's when we'll know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge!  It can't be learned about through books...it has to be something we experience and are growing in.   Which is exactly why the writer of Hebrews warns us against the root of bitterness.

Heb 12:14  Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:
Heb 12:15  Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;

In the verses prior, he's talking about understanding the chastening of the Lord, and the entire book of Hebrews is about having the proper understanding of Jesus.  The Hebrews were undergoing intense persecution and rejection from their Jewish families and neighbors.  It would be easy to let bitterness spring up in a situation where family and friends were rejecting you and treating you poorly...if you don't keep your eyes on Jesus.

But if we're looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, it makes a difference in how we live our lives!  He, being reviled, reviled not again.  Being cursed, He threatened not.  He loved His enemies, forgave them and prayed for them.  That's why we have to be rooted and grounded in His love.  It's an unending supply.  And it's been shown to us.

That's why the author of Hebrews refers to it as 'failing of the grace of God.'  When God has shown so much love and grace to us, how can we withhold it from others?

"But they've hurt me!  They don't care about me!  They talk about me behind my back!  They're turning others against me!  They misunderstand my intentions and believe things about me that aren't true!  I'm just trying to help and they're jealous and won't accept any!"

Will you let a root of bitterness grow up because of this?  A root of bitterness that will defile many others?

"Well, why doesn't God do something?  Why is He letting me go through all this?"

Will you let a root of bitterness grow up?  A root of bitterness that will defile many others?

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things, and that's the kind of love God has shown to us.

Bitterness has a limit, and starts to keep record of wrongs after a certain amount of hurt and offense.  And when we have a bitter mentality, it spreads.  Roots, unfortunately, don't stay to themselves.  They intertwine with other roots of other plants.  And bitterness is one of the most tangling.

It can be hard to keep from becoming bitter when everyone seems to be against us.  But Jesus said:

John 15:16  Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.
John 15:17  These things I command you, that ye love one another.
John 15:18  If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.
John 15:19  If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
John 15:20  Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.
John 15:21  But all these things will they do unto you for my name's sake, because they know not him that sent me.

The reason people treat you badly is because they don't have a correct understanding of God.  And if you are treating others badly, it is also because YOU don't have a correct understanding of God.  Only when we're rooted and grounded in love will we be able to comprehend what is the breadth and length and depth and height.  That's why we must look diligently lest any root of bitterness spring up.  God bless you.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Consecration: Vessels to Honor or Dishonor?

Have you ever been in a place where you couldn't figure out what God was calling you to do?  Where you prayed and prayed, but just couldn't seem to get HIS answer? Well if so, I can relate! A lot of times it seems like when I'm searching for a specific answer from God, He gives me principles! What's up with that? But I have decided the best thing to do in situations like these is consecrate myself before Him.

You may not be able to remember the last time you used the word 'consecrate' in a normal every day conversation.  (I guess I can't either, come to think of it!)  But that's because this isn't a normal every-day word. 

About a year ago when I was seeking God over some pretty big decisions in my life the Lord gave me a word from Him. He simply said "Have I not already commanded thee? Consecrate yourself before Me and I will direct your steps." 

And that was it. I was looking for a specific direction and that's what I got. Talk about frustrating! But the more I seek the Lord, the more He reveals this simple concept to me.

Since that's what He told me and I wasn't exactly sure what consecration meant, I decided to look up the word. Like I said before, it is not an everyday sort of word.  It's a holy word, and it means to make or pronounce clean or holy.  To dedicate.  To set apart.

The word is used a lot in connection with the tabernacle in the book of Exodus. The priests and the instruments and furniture in the Tabernacle associated with them were to be consecrated for the Lord.
So what did that look like practically? Well, an example is the vessels that were consecrated to be used in the temple.  Once they were sanctified and consecrated they were ONLY to be used for the LORD's service. So whenever the Lord needed them for some sacred duty they were ready and available to be used but otherwise they sat there waiting. They weren't able to do double duty as flower vases or drinking cups or trash bins. They belonged to God so He could use them however He wanted but only He could use them. They belonged to Him and were set apart for His special use.  In the book of Daniel, you can read in chapter 5 about the Babylonian king Belshazzar, who used the holy, sacred, consecrated vessels from the temple as common drinking goblets for his party.

 Immediately after he made that idiotic decision, a hand appears and writes on the wall that he has been weighed in the balance and found wanting, and that very night his kingdom is turned over to the Medes and Persians.  God is serious about what is consecrated to Him.

Consecrated, sanctified vessels, only to be used in service of the LORD.  And that's what we're supposed to be.  Unlike ordinary vessels made out of earth, though, we were made in the image of God and we have a say in whether or not we're purified to be used by Him.  Don't believe me?  Check out these Scriptures from the book of 2 Timothy.  Paul is encouraging and instructing his young protege Timothy, and warns him about a couple individuals who were teaching false doctrine and were spreading their word throughout the church.  But as a word of encouragement, Paul gives these admonitions and reminders immediately after discussing it:

2 Timothy 2:19-22 Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.  (20)  But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour.  (21)  If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work.  (22)  Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. KJV 

We have to "purge ourselves from these" to be a vessel unto honor!  There's a part we play!  Now because we are all God's creations, God has a right to use us however He wants to based on what kind of vessel we are prepared as.

Romans 9:20-24 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?  (21)  Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?  (22)  What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction:  (23)  And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory,  (24)  Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? KJV 

But whether we're a vessel that's made for the purpose of honor or dishonor depends largely upon whether or not our heart is repentant or not.  God can change and remake ANY vessel He wants to to be used by Him, as is clearly shown in Jeremiah after Jeremiah goes to the potter's house.

Jeremiah 18:6-11 O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel.  (7)  At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it;  (8)  If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.  (9)  And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it;  (10)  If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.  (11)  Now therefore go to, speak to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I frame evil against you, and devise a device against you: return ye now every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good. KJV 

He shows this graphically in many situations with many nations and cities including, Nineveh, Judah, and Sodom and Gomorrah.  A chance is given, good or evil is determined, but based on whether or not they are repentant, God gives the vessels a plan.

So here's the important part: how can we consecrate ourselves for God's service as the children of Levi did in Exodus 32?  Biblically, as in 2 Timothy 2 and Exodus 32, it might require a severing from people.  I didn't want to write that, but it's clear Biblically.  Those whom we make our "companions" is very important because, as the Bible says, "evil communications corrupt good manners." 1 Corinthians 15:33.  The below verses bear this out plainly:

Psalm 119:63  I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts. 
Proverbs 13:20  He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed. 
Proverbs 28:7  Whoso keepeth the law is a wise son: but he that is a companion of riotous men shameth his father. 

Does that mean we become like the Pharisees, and sweep by in our long robes with hankerchiefs over our mouths, fearful that we will be contaminated by even the briefest contact with the filth of sinners?  No, of course not.  Jesus touched lepers, allowed sinful women to wash his feet, dined with publicans, and was called a friend of publicans and sinners.  We welcome those who come to God.  "Whosoever will, let him come."  But here's the catch--as God's vessels, we go where God goes.  I noticed something significant when my sister was quoting a memory verse out of the book of John to me:

John 12:26  If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour. 

It's a simple statement, but this verse says, that if anyone wants to serve Jesus they need to follow Him so that wherever He is, that's where the servant will be.  Now you might be thinking, "Well, duh, Michael!" but let me explain why this was a revelation to me.  I had this mentality in my mind when I was seeking God's will, of a master who told his servant where to go and what to do and sent him out to do something.  But this is a different picture.  The servant goes where the Master is working.  Wherever the Master is, that's also where the servant is to JOIN the Master in His work!

So if God wants to use His vessel to scoop up the grime and dirt in a dark alley, we're right there with Him in that alley and available to Him for that!  If He wants to transport the richest wine in the king's palace in a vessel, we're right there with Him and available for that.  We belong to Him, and if we truly serve Him, we follow Him to be wherever He is.  But that also means that if people don't want to be with Him, they're going to have a problem being with us, because we are consecrated to His service, and where our master is, that's where we want to be. They'll think it strange that we don't run to the same excess of riot, and are instead in the trenches of warfare, losing our life to save it.  We're not about pleasing ourselves anymore.  We're about living for Him.  And there's going to be a natural and necessary severing from people as a result.  (See Micah 7:5-7, 2 Corinthians 6:14-18, Matthew 10:32-37 and Luke 12:51-53 for more information about that.) 

But okay, Michael, how does this work practically?  I'll be the first one to tell you, I really don't have that good of an idea, and I'm still trying to figure it out.  But I'll give you a quick Scriptural mentality of what our position is as servants and an example of one day in my life, which will hopefully help you.

Two psalms describe to me the posture we have as servants when we're 'waiting' on the Lord.

Psalm 123:1-2  A Song of degrees. Unto thee lift I up mine eyes, O thou that dwellest in the heavens.  (2)  Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the LORD our God, until that he have mercy upon us. KJV 
Psalm 32:8-9 I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.  (9)  Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee. KJV 

The servants' eyes, according to the first passage, look to the hand of their masters, which is why we lift up our eyes to the One who dwells in the heavens.  A good servant notices every gesture, every movement of the hand of the master so that the servant can immediately come into position to serve.  Jesus commands us to abide in Him in John 15.  If we are staying in His presence and looking to what He's doing, we can be in the correct position to serve Him however He desires.  It is our joy to jump to His smallest whim because we love Him, not because He's barking out orders (because that's not the way He works anyway, regardless of how much we may want Him to).  The more time we spend getting to know Him and His gestures and moves, the more we'll be able to correctly interpret what He's going to want us to do next.  That takes time, of course.  The next passage gives an admonition not to be like the horse or mule who have to respond to the touch of a bridle constantly, because they lack understanding, and gives the promise that God will instruct and teach us in the way we should go and will guide us with His eye.  That's kind of a weird way to say it isn't it?  But it contrasts two different ways of guiding.  One is guiding with a bridle and reins, which forces the guider to be behind the one he's guiding.  The other way is guiding with His eye, which requires the one being guided to face the one who's guiding.  This allusion of the eye makes sense to anyone who's ever gotten "the eye" from a mother or father or wife or husband or brother or sister or good friend.  When we get to know a person so well that we can read their very facial expressions, then we can be guided by their 'eye'.  That's the position God wants us to come to with Him.

As I write this, I'm keenly aware of how far away I am from being this type of servant to my master.  But I want to be.  So desperately.

To finish up this already lengthy blog post (but they only come once a month, so I figure I can go a little longer ;) right?), I want to relate the tiniest of glimpses I got a few months ago into this attitude.  I mentioned that this is a companion post to my last post on Availability: On-Call for God because I really think that's at the heart of consecration.  To present yourself as available for God's service.  As I was learning about this concept a few months ago, I began praying in that way, and presenting myself to God every day.  The first day I did it, I saw what a difference it made immediately.  As I went to work, I would intermittently remind myself that I was presenting myself to God that day.  I had the opportunity to talk with someone about God and encourage someone, so I took it, because I was presenting myself for God to use me however He wanted.  Then later in the day, it hit me again, as I walked by something that would have been wrong for me to look at, though I was tempted to.  Suddenly I remembered I had presented myself to God that morning, and I knew I couldn't look.  Later, when I left, I was about to head to a friend's graduation party, when something stopped me and I decided not to go.  I had a little bit of time before a Bible study I was attending that night, and since I had presented myself to God for His service that morning, I asked God what He wanted me to do.  And the name of a friend I hadn't talked with for awhile popped into my head.  I decided to visit him, so I called him up and we met somewhere to talk.  He was going through some difficulty in his marriage which I had no idea about and had just come from a difficult conversation.  It was as if I could sense God trying to reach out through me.  I could see how God had orchestrated my day.  I went to the Bible study, had more conversations where I was able to listen to what people were going through and we learned about Philip, who was available to God.

I share that story simply to give a tiny glimpse into what God can do in your day when you give it and yourself over to Him!  He has been so good to us, I beseech you therefore, by the mercies of God to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, and acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. :)

Exodus 32:29  For Moses had said, Consecrate yourselves to day to the LORD, even every man upon his son, and upon his brother; that he may bestow upon you a blessing this day. 

God bless you all!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Availability: On-Call for God

Have you ever had a job when you were on call?  You know, where the boss said, "We don't need you to come in today, but if something comes up, we expect you to drop everything and come in at a moment's notice."  There's a tentative freedom in that, because you can be doing other things, but you have to be willing to come when called.

I've been working in restoration and mitigation, but I'm hesitant to join with any company full-time for this very reason.  I've been with friends when they're hanging out or coming to church or Bible study but, if someone's basement floods or a sewage line breaks and their company gets the call, suddenly they're driving out to Boulder, dropping whatever we have going on.  Mitigation has to be that way to some extent.  Nobody ever plans on having a fire or a flood, so they're not going to schedule anything in advance.  When they wake up at 2 in the morning though to the sound of water overflowing from the toilet, they want to be able to call someone to take care of it.  If you're on call with a restoration company, you may get that call and have to leave your comfortable warm bed or couch and head out to Sterling to save the day.  If you work for the company, that's just your job, and it's not unreasonable to expect you to do that!

Recently in a Bible study, I came across a figure who seemed to fit the description of being "on-call for God" pretty well.  You may be familiar with him but let me give you a brief sketch of his life to show how his attitude influenced what he did for the Lord!  This is the man who experienced teleporting way before Star Trek, who raced alongside chariots just to give a Bible study, who matched wits against a sorcerer all the people called 'the great power of God', a man the Bible calls in Acts 21:8: "Philip the evangelist."

But before we get too caught up in the events of his life, let's look at the attitude that led him into all these amazing situations.  Our first glimpse of Philip comes in Acts chapter 6, when there were Grecian widows who were being overlooked in the church's distribution of food.  The apostles got together to discuss the problem, and decided they needed to have the people appoint seven men who were 1) of honest report, 2) full of the Holy Ghost, and 3) full of wisdom, to appoint over this business of, as they called it, "serving tables."

Now, this wasn't a super glamorous job.  This was an organizational position to make sure people received bread.  But the apostles were looking for people with a high qualification, who would know how to handle the situations that arose with honesty and Spirit-led wisdom.  Philip was one of the ones the people selected.  The fact that Philip joined the ranks of the seven shows me a little about his heart.  He had high-qualifications, but he was willing and available to do servant's work--whatever the Lord needed done, even if that only meant waiting on tables.  That's the kind of person that every church is looking for because that's the kind of attitude that God can use!

Of course, this situation didn't last forever.  When one of the other ministers or servants or 'deacons' (which is where we get the word from, incidentally), stirred up some problems and ended up getting stoned for standing up for the testimony of Jesus Christ, it stirred up a persecution against the church which scattered them out away from Jerusalem.  In that situation, do you know what Philip did?  I'll tell you what he didn't say!  He didn't say, "Well, if serving God is going to get me killed, you can forget this!  I'm not about doing menial work just to get persecuted for helping people!  I had a job in the church, but it all fell apart, and now my position is unnecessary so I'm just going to give up."  That's what he didn't say.  Instead, you find him in Acts chapter 8, going down to the city of Samaria and preaching Christ to them!  You know what that shows me about his attitude?  It shows me that he was looking for opportunities to do God's work!  When he got chased out of one place, his thought was, "Alright that season of service is done. What do you want me to do next, God?  Oh, there's a city that's in bondage and needs to hear the gospel?  Alright!  I'll go there!"

He went down to Samaria and revival broke out!  Unclean spirits were coming out of people kicking and screaming, people taken with palsies and that were lame were healed, great joy ensued, and once the people heard and saw the miracles and believed what Philip was saying about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were all baptized in the name of Jesus, both men and women, including Simon the sorcerer, a man who had bewitched the people for a very long time!  So much was happening that the apostles sent Peter and John to pray for the people to receive the Holy Spirit (because even with all the signs and wonders, the Holy Ghost had not yet fallen upon them).

So this is an amazing situation, right?  You'd think this would be a good place for Philip to stay for a while, set up a church and begin pastoring, start mentoring some of these people who had been converted, keep praying, keep doing miracles.  He's got respect and notoriety now, so it seems like he should stay there, right?  Nope!  Instead, the angel of the Lord speaks to Philip and tells him to go south to the road that goes from Jerusalem to Gaza.  What's there?  Some big city to preach the gospel in?  A church that needs help?  A place where there are even more needs than Samaria?  Nope.  It's desert.

Waiiiit a minute, God!  You're telling me you want me to leave Samaria, a place where I'm being used, a place where there's TONS of need, a place where I can see the effect and impact I'm having, and go down to a desert?  Is this a punishment?  This doesn't seem to make sense in my church-planting strategy.

But do you think Philip said that or even questioned God?  Nope!  The Bible says, and I quote, "And he arose and went."  Why??  Why would he leave a place where he was making such a big impact??  Because he was on call for God.  This wasn't a plan laid out by the apostles, or thought up by Philip and the seven.  The authority he had to answer to was the Lord, Jesus Christ.  So when God sends a messenger to him telling him to go somewhere else, well, by golly, he's on call, and he's going to go!

He gets to the desert and all he sees on the long dusty road is one chariot, which looks to be a wealthy government official from Ethiopia from the license plate and entourage (okay, work with me), heading away from Jerusalem.  "Okay, God, so I'm here, now what?"  You know what?  Philip made himself available, so the Spirit speaks to him and tells him to go near and join himself to the chariot.  So Philip runs up and as he's running alongside the chariot, (I picture him running alongside as the chariot's moving, but I don't even know if it was.  It could have been parked, or he could have jumped up on the side, like those guys do on the garbage trucks...that's kind of a cool picture...anyways, either way...) he overhears him reading Isaiah the prophet (out loud apparently), and he's like, "Hey, you understand what you're reading?"  You probably know the story!  The eunuch invites him up, Philip preaches Jesus to him as they're driving along further into the desert, further away from wherever Philip was planning on being, and when they get to a place where there's water, the eunuch is ready and says, "Well, hey, is there anything stopping me from being baptized?" and Philip is like, "Dude! (Greek paraphrase) If you believe with all your heart, you're set!"  And when the eunuch affirms he knows who Jesus is, they both go down into the water, and Philip baptizes him.

But do you see the point?  Here's one individual who is hungry and seeking after God.  He came all the way to Jerusalem from Ethiopia just to worship, (probably not even able to go into the Temple because of his condition), and is still seeking God on the way back, studying God's word without understanding it, seeking for a word from God, hungry for someone to come and help him understand.  God sees this, and says, "I need someone to go speak to this man.  Who can I send?  Who's available?  Philip!  Leave what you're doing and go down to the desert!"

Now after this little scene, maybe it makes sense to stay with the eunuch for a while.  Travel back with him, preach in Ethiopia now that he's got an open door there, maybe speak to Queen Candace a little, possibly disciple the eunuch a tad?  Nope.  Philip is on call and God wants him somewhere else.  As soon as the eunuch is baptized, God Himself literally transports Philip to Azotus.  Can you imagine the scene?  Philip baptizes him and the Bible says as soon as they were up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip so that the eunuch saw him no more, but that was okay, because he's been baptized, and now he could continue on his way rejoicing, knowing that he had entered into covenant with God!  Here, a man pops up out of nowhere by his chariot, then once he baptizes him, disappears out of nowhere!  Now you see him.  Now you don't.  And the Bible has one verse to cover his next stage of service to the Lord.

Acts 8:40  But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea. 

Now, as cool as the scene was, this verse and it's place names didn't stand out as significant to me, until in the Bible study we looked at a map as to where these cities were.  Check out this map:

Now remember, Philip started in Jerusalem.  Then the persecution scattered the believers, and he headed north to Samaria.  Suddenly, the angel speaks to him and tells him to head for the road in the desert between Jerusalem and Gaza.  Then the Lord translates him to Azotus. So he started out heading north from Jerusalem, and the Lord picked him up, and took him right back down south, even farther south than Jerusalem!  And what does Philip do?  Philip heads north again, preaching in all the cities from Azotus all the way to Caesarea!  I have this picture in my mind of Philip constantly running and preaching, and God picks him up, still running, and sets him down south, and he just keeps running and preaching!  Philip was on-call.  He was heading north, but God still had some villages in the south that needed to hear the gospel.  Who was the man for the job?  Philip.

God has been convicting me about having this same kind of availability!  I want to be on-call to Him!  I want to be sensitive to His Spirit! To hear when He speaks!  And whether I feel good or bad about where I'm at, it really doesn't matter, because my plans aren't the focus!  I'll serve God wherever I'm at, and make myself available to Him wherever He wants to put me, because I'm HIS servant!  In a future post we may discuss how to consecrate yourself for God's service so that you're ready and available to Him and sensitive to His Spirit!  But, in the meantime, I pray that Philip's infectious attitude takes hold, and that everyone who reads this become someone who is on-call for God!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Insights from India Part 2

2 Timothy 4:2  "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine."

This verse sums up a lot about what I learned about ministry in India.  The word "instant" is translated "ready" in other translations.  Paul is telling Timothy in this verse to preach the word, and to be ready to do so "in season", when he's expecting it, and when it's time for preaching, and also "out of season", when he's not expecting it.  In other words, be ready to preach the word no matter what the circumstances.  You don't have any time off of this great commission.  Then he tells him to reprove, rebuke and exhort with all longsuffering...because when you're doing these things and working with people, it requires a LOT of patience...and with all doctrine, because the time will come when they will not endure sound teaching, but will heap teachers after their own lusts, having itching ears.  We are to be ready at all times to preach the word, and to do it with patience and right teaching.  One story from my time in India stands out to me as a good lesson to be ready in all circumstances.

We were in two places in India mainly.  We started out in Chennai and the surrounding villages for a few days, then moved south into the mountains, and worked in Kodikanal and the surrounding villages.  When we got to the mountainous region of Kodikanal, we were in a much nicer and cooler climate, and staying at this nice English-built stone lodge, with a lake and place to eat nearby.

When we arrived, one of the pastors was telling us about our itinerary.  Most of the days, we would be going to a school assembly in the morning and presenting for the kids, then going to villages in the afternoon.  But there were two days when we'd have the afternoon free to do touristy things, because Saturday there was a youth crusade in the morning, and the other day there was a pastor's conference.  So we're all thinking, "Hey, that's a pretty good deal!"  But suddenly, our team leader, Dr. Castelino, raised his hand and said, "Actually, we didn't come to do touristy things.  We came to minister.  So if you could find another village or something to go to in the afternoon, we'd rather do that."  And we were all thinking, "Whaaaaa?"  (Just kidding--that was probably just me.  The other members of the team were much more spiritual.)  The pastors had a quick conference with each other in Tamil, then said they weren't sure what they could work out, but they'd try, which contented Dr. Castelino for the time being.  But that ministry glint was in his eye.

We went to a school, called the Zion school, which had the biggest assembly of English-speaking kids we'd had thus far.  We presented the skit of Achan, illustrating the concept of Romans 6:23, and that God is always watching, even when you think nobody else is, and told about the gift of life that He gives us through Jesus Christ.  The only group of kids that were missing were the 10th and 12th graders who had huge exams that they had to study for, making them exempt from the assembly.  We went inside to have tea (which we were served everywhere we went, it seemed...which was okay with me, because it was delicious!) and cookies, courtesy of the principal.  While we were partaking, the principal brought in the 10th and 12th graders for us to pray a blessing over them.  The guys laid hands on the guys and the girls on the girls and we prayed.  Afterwards, we were able to interact with them in English which was a pleasant change of pace for us.  As we were talking with them, Dr. Castelino walked over and announced, "I have been talking with the captain of their state champion volleyball school, who challenged us to a volleyball match on Saturday.  I have accepted on your behalf!"  The translator's eyes widened and he said, "Wait, at your request, we already started looking for other ministry opportunities and had set up something with an orphanage!"  They had a hurried, whispered conference, and then announced that we'd do the youth crusade in the morning and into the afternoon, then volleyball after that, then after dinner around 6, we'd go over to the orphanage.  So now, far from being a day of free time, we had a packed schedule for Saturday!

Saturday rolled around, and were told ahead of time to be expecting young people ages 14-25 to attend, and we were asked to focus a little on relationships since that was a big issue in India, with all of their movies very focused on romance.  We conferred amongst ourselves in the evenings trying to come up with some good ways of teaching these principles to an older audience than we were accustomed to, but the only ones offering testimonies about that sort of thing were the girls, and otherwise, we were just going to do the skits we had already been doing and practicing.  As we were talking about the skits, we also tried to come up with some new ideas, since we had been doing the same ones since our arrival in India.  The idea was tossed out there for a skit about the story of Joseph in the Bible.  But as we tried to assign characters and a narrator and scenes around the campfire, we gave up, deciding there were too many characters and the story was too complicated to tell.

Saturday morning when we arrived at the building where the youth crusade was to be held, the translators came to us looking a little grave.  "Because of the big exams coming up, all the schools decided to hold school again on Saturday," they explained.  "So we have some of the Christian girls from the Zion school, and a few orphanages sent all of their little kids."  Suddenly, we had a completely different audience than we were expecting, so rather than try to focus on relationships, we decided to just do the skits we already had prepared, focusing on the commands of Christ.  As we were performing, the Lord moved on a few members of our team to set up something separate with the girls on our team and the older girls from the Zion school.  They met together outside and began talking about relationships, with several of our girls sharing their testimonies that they had planned on sharing with everyone.  After their talk, several girls were crying and one girl came up to one of the members of our team with tears in her eyes and told them, "I was praying you would talk about relationships today!"  So even though it was in a completely different format than we had anticipated, we prepared an offering for Him, and He used in the way He wanted to.

We finished performing all our skits, and then went to the volleyball match, where we were trounced by the high school team.  But it gave us another opportunity to interact with the kids we'd met the day before.  Afterwards, we headed back for dinner, and then it was time to go to the orphanage.  By this time, we were beat.  We were used to the day ending with dinner, and this had been a full day.  Also, all the kids from the orphanage had been at the youth crusade and so had seen all of our skits and we had nothing left to present!  Nonetheless, we packed up and headed over to the orphanage, hoping to be able to just play with the kids.  No such luck.

We played with the kids for about an hour, then the owner of the orphanage called us into this crowded, humid, stuffy room with all of the kids and told us, "Okay, it is time for your presentation.  Go ahead!"  Uhhhh......

As our team started doing songs with the kids, I had a quick mumbled meeting with Dr. C.  "What are we going to present?  We already did all the skits we had prepared!"

He thought for a minute then said with a smile, "Why don't you do the story of Joseph?"

"Uh because we haven't planned it out or practiced it or anything!  Besides we were arguing about whether I would play Joseph as the narrator, or have someone else narrate and...we're just not ready.  Which version would I even do?"

He smiled and waved me off.  "Ah, you'll be fine."  Then he started doing the hand motions to My God is So Big.  Thanks a lot, Dr. C!

So as the songs ended, I jumped up in front of all the kids, with all the members of our team wondering what on earth I was about to do.

"Hi kids, I'm going to tell you a story from a loooooooong time ago, about a young man named Joseph.  But I'm going to tell you as if I'm Joseph."  I took a deep breath and plunged in, explaining about my big family and how my brothers didn't seem to like me, though my father loved me.  As I spoke, I grabbed Dr. C to play the father, and motioned for Jake and Adam to come up and play the brothers.

It was one of the best skits we did the entire time.

All of the team members were fantastic, jumping in and ad-libbing and acting out the parts as I told the story, producing some hilarious lines, that probably made us laugh more than the kids!  I would say something along the lines of, "Dad sent me out to go check on my brothers!  Oh, there they are!"  Then I'd wave enthusiastically and Jake and Adam would frown in my direction.  "I wonder why they don't look excited to see me?" I'd tell the kids.  Then I'd approach Jake and Adam and say, "Hey, good to see you guys!"  And through a little bit of dialogue, they would end up grabbing my multi-colored scarf (a prop thrown up to me by one of the girls on the team), and saying, "You see that hole Joseph?  I think this scarf looks good on me, and I think you'd look good in there!"  Then Jake grabbed my arms and Adam grabbed my legs and they swung me out over the audience to the kids' squeals of delight.  The entire skit was like that with every character whether they were playing Potiphar, Potiphar's wife (a situation I tried unsuccessfully to handle delicately), the jailer, Pharaoh, the butler, the baker, etc.  Throughout the whole thing I kept saying things like, "And I don't know why God put me in this situation, but I'm going to trust Him no matter what!" which became the theme of the story.

As we finished, I told the kids, "And now, I'm going to tell you about how this applied to my life.  My father died when I was seven years old.  But God became a father to me, just like the Bible says.  'God is a father to the fatherless.' "  And as I was saying that, that's when it hit me.  God had orchestrated this entire evening.  Here we were in an orphanage, surrounded by kids who had no mother or father, or whose parents had abandoned them or couldn't take care of them, subjected to hurt and extreme poverty.  When we had arrived, we hadn't planned on doing the story of Joseph and I hadn't planned on telling my testimony.  But the Sovereign Hand of God had orchestrated that we would tell THAT story, and that I would be the one narrating it.  As I applied the lesson to their lives, it was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop.  I saw tears in people's eyes.  I told them, "Everyone bow your heads and close your eyes and I'm going to pray for you."

This whole incident served to show me that even the best laid plans may fall through.  We had a certain idea for how the day would go with the youth crusade, but nothing came about exactly like we thought.  However, if we have the mindset of ministry like Dr. Castelino did, and apply the principles of 2 Timothy 4:2, being instant in season and out of season and using longsuffering and right doctrine, God can shape the events and use our faulty plans to bring glory to Himself and produce an effect far greater than any we could have imagined.

How does that apply when not in India?  The exact same way.  I find that oftentimes, when we go on a missions trip where it's our "job" to serve and reach out to people, because that's what we're there for and what we're "supposed" to do, we have a ministry mindset and look for opportunities to influence and impact.  But for some reason back in the states we lose that attitude. Isn't it true that it's our job to serve and reach out to people wherever we are, because that's what God has put us on this earth for and what we're supposed to do?  I challenge and encourage anyone who took the time to read these words to have that mentality!  In your day-to-day life start looking for opportunities to serve people and to point them to Jesus, and we can't even imagine what He will use that for!  And I look forward to hearing and reading your stories. ;)

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Insights from India

“There are many ministers working for Christ.  But I can count on my hands the number of people doing it without a second motive.”  The statement hit me hard, as the bus hit a pothole hard swerving to miss a cow. The translator was holding onto a railing as he shared his testimony, rocking back and forth on the bus that seemed absent of any shocks, except the shock on our faces as we took in the driving style of our bus driver.  “Without a second motive.”  Honk, honk.  And that quote is what stuck with me as one of the most memorable lessons I witnessed by example while I was in India.

The Lord did a lot of amazing things on our trip.  I was amazed at the prayers that were answered and hearts that were changed.  Many times a surreal feeling would creep over me as I looked around and what we were doing.  Andrew would be standing there, preaching about the Prodigal Son to a crowd of barefooted children, as dogs, goats and chickens meandered around the thatched roof huts lining either side of a narrow street used by cows and motorbikes.  Exactly what I’ve pictured reading so many missionary stories but never imagined that’s what I’d be doing.  Countless kids coming up for prayer, sharing the gospel in small, smoky, one-roomed huts, preaching on the streets, sharing testimonies at orphanages, leading people to Jesus…the Lord worked powerfully.  But through all that, the constant nagging question was, “How do I take this sense of ministry home and apply it in the states?”  I saw God working so effectively through the pastors and in the villages we were ministering in.  The pastors and ministries found a way that worked in those rural Indian villages.  But the cultures and attitudes are very different in the States.  And yet, our attitude about service and prayer and faith should be consistent, I believe no matter where we are!

And that's what affected me most in India: the pastors and their mentalities of ministry.  At one of the pastors' conferences we attended and presented at, some of their mentalities sunk in, and I jotted down notes, praying that I could have the same kind of attitude back in the States.  Here's a few of the things I learned.

One of the quotes that stuck out to me was "Jesus told us He would built His church and the gates of Hell would not prevail against it, and told us to go and make disciples of all the nations...and yet, we're building churches."  The emphasis at Serve India Ministries was on discipleship.  "Too many times," one of the pastors told me, "pastors emphasize the number of believers they got.  They talk about how many conversions, how many baptisms.  But what I want to know is how many disciples do you have?  That's what Jesus told us to make.  Disciples."  I see that trend in America.  We love having an impact!  We love seeing fruit!  But if we get them in, get them to make a profession of faith, baptize them...then they leave and continue leading lives like they always did, what have we accomplished?  It's not about the numbers...it's about the heart changes in people.

Paul warned us against this mentality in Galatians 6:12-15:

Galatians 6:12-15 "As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.  (13)  For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.  (14)  But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.  (15)  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature." KJV

The Galatian church was dealing with Judaizers who were constraining the Gentiles to be circumcised, saying they needed to be circumcised to be saved.  But Paul reveals their true motives: they wanted to glory in their flesh!  If they could produce some visible change, they could say, "We got this many circumcised!" and glory in their numbers.  People do that today with many external things, like standards of dress and other things.  But Paul says we only glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In Him, the only thing that makes a difference is not whether you've been circumcised or not (an external change) but whether or not you've been born again and are a new creature (an internal change)!

Too often we build a church or a ministry and invite people to come.  But in India, these pastors go into village and find people to disciple, and the churches grow up organically from that!  It's possible also to begin discipling people before they're saved!  If they know more about Jesus and who He is and that His teachings work, they will be more likely to commit their entire lives to Him and get to know Him personally!  We cannot have a second motive when ministering the gospel.  It must be chiefly the glory of God and our love for Him and what He loves--which is people!  People have many second motives, whether it be money, the opportunity for education, a chance to showcase skills, one's own glory in acquiring a position, or feeling accomplished because of what a difference you've made.  But God's glory MUST be our primary motive!  In a future post, I will tell a story from my time in India to illustrate how I believe our attitudes should be as we go through our lives looking for disciples.  God bless you all! 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Sanctify the LORD (or Moses' Mistake)

Kind of an odd phrase isn't it? I mean when you really stop and think about it. 

No not the second one in parenthesis-- the first one: sanctify the LORD. 

I know what you're thinking... you want to get to the part when you find out why this punk kid is presuming to say that the great prophet of God and liberator of the children of Israel had some mistake that I'm going to call him out on. Well hold your horses; I'll get there. But think about that phrase first. It always kind of confused me. 

When we think of the word 'sanctify' what do we think of? (Ok so you might not think of that word that often but on the rare occasion when you're reading the King James Version of the Bible...) the word sanctify means to make clean or holy, to purify, venerate.  Its usually used in Scripture to describe something that God does to us. However I came across this phrase in the classic apologetics verse: 1 Peter 3:15.

1 Peter 3:15  But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: 

What's he talking about? Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts? Usually we focus on the last part of the verse but what in heaven does that first part mean?? Can we add anything to God? How can WE make the Lord God clean and holy in our hearts? That's supposed to be something He does to US right? That's not the only time it's used either!

Isaiah 8:13  Sanctify the LORD of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. 

Before I tell you my conclusion about that let me tell you something else that's always bugged me in the Bible. (I mean, since we're already talking about it.) In fact, this is something I know has been confusing to a lot of people that I've talked to about it! 

Here it is: why didn't God let Moses go into the Promised Land?!?! I mean what is up with THAT?? Moses of all people! This is the guy who didn't even want to go at first because the people wouldn't believe him. This is the guy who's put up with a stiff necked stubborn people who are continually complaining and questioning his leadership and doing stupid stuff! This is the guy who stood as an intercessor between God and the people when the LORD'S wrath was kindled and He wanted to kill them! Then seemingly in one moment he loses his temper (rather justly I feel! Just like God seems to have done with this people on occasion) and suddenly--just like that--he's not allowed to go in. WHAAAAAAAT????? That seems just a wee bit harsh if you ask me. (I know you didn't, but just play along.) The punishment wasn't even that severe when he broke all ten commandments at once! (Haha see what I did there?) But seriously after all the guy's had to put up with? Check out a couple of these statements out of Moses' own mouth:

Numbers 11:11-15 KJV  And Moses said unto the LORD, Wherefore hast thou afflicted thy servant? and wherefore have I not found favour in thy sight, that thou layest the burden of all this people upon me?  (12)  Have I conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father beareth the sucking child, unto the land which thou swarest unto their fathers?  (13)  Whence should I have flesh to give unto all this people? for they weep unto me, saying, Give us flesh, that we may eat.  (14)  I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me.  (15)  And if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favour in thy sight; and let me not see my wretchedness.

This is Moses who interceded for the people!  But look at this story, and try to explain to me the harsh punishment inflicted on him.

Num 20:1-13 KJV
(1)  Then came the children of Israel, even the whole congregation, into the desert of Zin in the first month: and the people abode in Kadesh; and Miriam died there, and was buried there.
(2)  And there was no water for the congregation: and they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron.
(3)  And the people chode with Moses, and spake, saying, Would God that we had died when our brethren died before the LORD!
(4)  And why have ye brought up the congregation of the LORD into this wilderness, that we and our cattle should die there?
(5)  And wherefore have ye made us to come up out of Egypt, to bring us in unto this evil place? it is no place of seed, or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegranates; neither is there any water to drink.
(6)  And Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and they fell upon their faces: and the glory of the LORD appeared unto them.
(7)  And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
(8)  Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink.
(9)  And Moses took the rod from before the LORD, as he commanded him.
(10)  And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?
(11)  And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also.
(12)  And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.
(13)  This is the water of Meribah; because the children of Israel strove with the LORD, and he was sanctified in them.

I've heard people say that it was because he got angry. I've also heard people say it's because he disobeyed. You know? God said to speak to it and he hits it twice. But I find that hard to swallow and can't help think there's something deeper going on here. Then I thought: Hey let's see what God says about what HIS reason was for keeping Moses out of the promise land. He says it twice; once here, and once later in Scripture. Let's take a look.

Numbers 27:14  For ye rebelled against my commandment in the desert of Zin, in the strife of the congregation, to sanctify me at the water before their eyes: that is the water of Meribah in Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin. 

One phrase stands out to me in both: "to sanctify me...in their eyes".  Again, a slightly confusing phrase.  Several times prior to this, the LORD has said He wants to prove that He is the LORD that sanctifies them, that makes them holy.  That makes sense.  But for us to attribute holiness to God?  So back to the original question.  What does that phrase mean?

In the context of 1 Peter 3, he's talking about when we suffer for righteousness's sake, and he says not to be troubled but to sanctify the Lord God in our hearts.  When I was studying this chapter once, it dawned on me.  Whenever we're going through trouble wrongfully (or even sometimes if we deserve it) who gets the most blame...especially if we seem to be doing everything right?  God does!  We say, "God, I'm faithfully serving You!  Why are You letting all these bad things happen to me?  It's not fair!  It's not right!"  We know in our heads that God is just and holy...but when it seems like it's the opposite case, we become troubled.  But Peter warns us against that, and tells us to sanctify the Lord God in our hearts!  We have to change our perspective of God, and acknowledge that He IS holy.  The Hebrew word for 'sanctify' means to ceremonially pronounce as holy.  So when we pronounce God as holy in the midst of our suffering, that stands out to people because it seems completely counter-intuitive!  God is allowing us to suffer for doing what's right, but we still say He's holy, and we still hope in Him!  That will prompt some questions, and we need to always have a meek answer ready for those who are wondering about this hope that it is in us.

The context of Isaiah 8, is again one of fear and turmoil.  The mighty, cruel, vicious Assyrian army is marching against Israel, and King Ahaz wants to go to other nations for help.  But Isaiah is telling him to trust the Lord!  Let Him be your fear and your dread, and sanctify Him!  Don't trust a confederacy...trust the LORD!  I know it's scary right now, Ahaz.  I know it doesn't seem like the promises of God for Israel are going to hold true.  I know it feels like you should be coming up with your own plans.  But instead of that, pronounce God as holy!  Acknowledge that He knows what He's doing even in these troublesome times!  Sanctify Him, and He will be a sanctuary to you.  Ahaz needed to set an example of sanctifying the Lord and trusting Him for his entire nation.

So from what I can see, sanctifying the Lord means to pronounce Him as holy, even in the midst of strife, and trouble, and suffering.

Now we get back to Moses.  Now, I still feel like there's a lot of nuances to the story that I'm just not getting (so if you have any insights, please feel free to comment and tell me about them!) but I think this may be one aspect.  Apparently, he did not sanctify the Lord in the eyes of the children of Israel based on what He did.  What did He do?  God told him to take his staff and speak to the rock so that they could all have drink when they were complaining to Him that He was not taking care of them.  Moses gets angry, takes the staff, strikes the rock twice, and yells, "Ye rebels, must we fetch water out of this rock?"  I believe Moses did not accurately represent the holiness of the Lord in this situation.  God wanted to give water to His people.  He wasn't planning on leaving them out there to die with no water.  The people were striving with Him.  That's what Meribah means...strife.  But God wanted to show them that He IS holy.  He didn't bring them out there to die.  Moses, however, portrayed God as angry and frustrated with the people.  Moses represented God to the people, we know this was a pattern from Exodus 4 through Exodus 7:1 through Exodus 19 and 20 and 34.  God wanted him to represent him accurately in spirit.

We know from verses like Leviticus 10:3 that God wants to be shown as holy in the leaders over His people, and, therefore, He holds His leaders to a higher standard.

We also know from verses like Ezekiel 20:41, that He wants to be shown as holy among the heathen and all the nations, in His people by the things He does among them.  I'll show one more verse to illustrate what I believe is an absolutely vital point:

Ezekiel 36:23  And I will sanctify my great name, which was profaned among the heathen, which ye have profaned in the midst of them; and the heathen shall know that I am the LORD, saith the Lord GOD, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes. 

God's people represent Him.  When we, as His people represent Him inaccurately, we profane His name.  We make His character look unholy, and defiled and impure.  God's desire is to be represented accurately in the way HE acts.  He wants us to sanctify Him in the eyes of others, so that they can know His TRUE character.  We identify with Moses, because his reaction is very human and makes sense to us.  He had a right to be frustrated, we think.  These people were constantly challenging the faithfulness and holiness and love of God even though they'd seen it time and time again.  The way Moses went about giving them water from the Lord was not pleasing to Him.  Moses didn't sanctify Him in the eyes of the people.  He didn't make Him look holy.  Thus, Moses didn't get to go into the Promised Land.  It's very serious.  We may justify the way we handle a situation sometime because we're right.  We're doing what's right and they're treating us badly, so we treat them badly in return. (Even though that's not what Jesus did when He was being led as a lamb to the slaughter.)  We see trouble arising and we want to appeal to logic and reason and put things in place to protect ourselves.  (Even though God said He would protect us.)  We're fed up with people and treat them harshly when we give them what they're asking for. (Even though they're upset with God...not us.)  We're representing HIM...let's sanctify Him in our dealings with others.