Thursday, October 26, 2017

Effective Service

So I heard myself pray, "God, please keep me lowly of heart and effective..... Is that possible?"

I said it again and realized the lie. It's as if  one negates the other--humility and effectiveness. "Really?" I asked. "Yes," I answered. How often we think that that to do something well we need to be "at the top of our game," "locked and loaded," "ready for bear" when God says something entirely different.

Jesus is our example and He was most effective when He thought of others as more important than Himself. He was successful when He did not look out for His own interests, when He looked to the interests of others, when He did not seek His station or equality, when He emptied Himself, took the form of a bondservant, took on a lowly appearance, and became obedient to the point of death on the cross (Phil. 2:3-8).

The lie, then, is that I have to "be someone" to be used; that others must see me as important, respected, and worth their time. The opposite, in God's kingdom, is true.

Do I consider others more important than myself? Do I let them go first in traffic? Hold doors open? Adjust my schedule and preferences for theirs?

How often do I consider another's interests? Priorities? Likes and dislikes?

Do I ever take the last place? Put myself behind others in conversation, seating, or decision- making?

How willing am I to give up my rights? To yield to others, be flexible, and seek peace at my expense?

Am I content with a lowly appearance? Or do I need to impress others? Look better than? Younger than? More attractive than?

And am I obedient to God regardless of the cost? Or do I, like Cain, argue that God is too demanding, too harsh, too unkind? (Gen. 1:13)

In and through it all is the realization that a) it's not about me, it's about God's praise and glory and b) I am not serving God--He is serving me. Any act of service, any kindness, or gift is done through His enabling. God cannot be served by human hands. There is nothing we have to offer that He will accept. But Jesus. Jesus came to serve--and He continues to serve by His Spirit, through His people, empowering us with His Word. God will accept the work of Jesus Christ. It is all we have to offer--ourselves in Christ.

The right prayer, then, is, "God, please help me recognize my rightful place; to be lowly of heart and, as you see fit, fruitful in your service."

The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist... (Acts 17:24-28 NASB)

"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

[Jesus said], "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing." (John 15:4-5) 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

A True Reflection

There are times I walk by a mirror and know I don't want to see what's there.  Other times I need a mirror to make one part of myself presentable but pose in a way that prevents me from seeing other parts. Or I use as small a mirror as possible to get the job done.

It's rather personal, but my guess is I'm not the only one.

But as interact with the mirror--looking at less attractive features and seeking solutions--the reflection changes over time.

Related image
The same is true of God's Word--likened to a mirror. Sometimes I don't even want to know what it says about who I am and what I'm like, so I avoid it altogether. Other times I read portions of the Bible that are comfortable--over and over--and avoid those that reveal things I don't want to see. Sometimes I use as small a piece of the Bible as necessary--or take it in the smallest possible dose (i.e a sermon)--to get the job done and say I did it.

Much like a child playing peek-a-boo, if I can't see it, it doesn't exist. But we know better, don't we? Just because we don't see the problem doesn't mean others don't...that God doesn't. What it means is that I don't. And that's really, really dangerous.

In the world of mirrors, fashion, and real life, I don't have to care what others think of me. It can be a total focus or total disregard. In spiritual terms, what's there is there. Reality counts. Reality has consequences. Reality is not just temporal but eternal. Ready or not, I need to know. And, as I interact with the truth of God's Word and the reality of my need, He works change over time. Unlike a mirror, God not only reveals the need, He provides the solution.

In Christ, we are not left to our own devices. Because of the Spirit that resides in His people, God pursues us, works for our perfection and Christlikeness. He is more concerned about our outcome than we are. So, when God presents and opportunity to look soundly into the mirror of His Word, take it. Thank Him. Ask for help restoring and reconfiguring your reflection. When we look in and Christ looks back, what joy!

O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You understand my thought from afar.
You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O Lord, You know it all.
You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is too high, I cannot attain to it.

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will lay hold of me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
And the light around me will be night,”
Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to You.

For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.

How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand.
When I awake, I am still with You.

O that You would slay the wicked, O God;
Depart from me, therefore, men of bloodshed.
For they speak against You wickedly,
And Your enemies take Your name in vain.
Do I not hate those who hate You, O Lord?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against You?
I hate them with the utmost hatred;
They have become my enemies.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way. (Psalm 139)

Monday, October 2, 2017

If I Have Biblical Counseling but Have Not Love...

I discovered biblical counseling almost 10 years ago—and it made a huge difference in the way I see and help people who are hurting. If you are not familiar with biblical counseling, it’s just that—giving counsel from the Bible. Parents do it. Friends do it. Bible study leaders, pastors, Sunday school teachers, deacons and elders do it.

So what’s big deal? In the early 1970’s a Presbyterian minister asked why churches send hurting people outside the church for help. Others started asking similar questions and looking for biblical answers to depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, marital difficulty, and other very real, difficult life struggles. In the years since, books, resources, pastors, conferences, and programs have multiplied—all with practical, biblical truths and principles that address heart issues.

Since it’s fall, a football analogy seemed appropriate. No analogy is perfect, but for the story’s sake, let’s pretend Christians are pushing toward the goal of Christlikeness. A person seeking help is a “counselee.” The person offering help (casually or professionally) is the counselor.

If counselees are moving toward the goal, I picture myself, the counselor, as another teammate on the field--game book in mind, listening to and checking in with the Coach. Down here on the turf, we take our share of knocks. Some are falling down, others are picking them up. We’re pointing, directing, limping alongside, and holding on to one another, cheering others on, blocking and tackling.

As I push and scramble on the field, here are some thoughts to build unity as we throw hand-signals, pray, and spur each other on:

  • The Coach and Playbook are vital. We have great examples on the field, but we work together best when each one talks to the Coach and studies the Playbook personally. When we don’t, even the best of intentions are ineffective.
  • Every player/counselor belongs on the field. A counselee needs a biblical counselor that is engaged, walking the talk, praying, and getting dirty in this thing called “life.” We carry the ball, block, tackle, and work to protect one another. There is no bench in the Christian life; there are no spectators.
  • In one sense, we're all on the field: each of us should give sound, biblical advice, each of us is struggling and playing. On the other hand, each person uses his or her spiritual gifts to benefit everyone. In addition to hands-on counseling, there are needs to communicate, treat the wounded, provide water, cheer and encourage, make deliveries to the field, run the chain, etc. We're all working together both on and off the field. But if everyone only want to give biblical counsel to the exclusion of other jobs, things are left undone and everyone suffers.*
  • No player or team member is more important than another. We have different gifts, callings, and responsibilities, but we must guard against discrimination based on differences in lingo, resources, plays, and expertise. When we’re all heading the same direction, listening to the same Coach and using the same Playbook, the brand of socks we wear doesn’t matter.  As one Youtube-made-famous-woman said, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” We all have more than enough of the Master’s work to keep us pressing onward and upward together.
In and through it all, If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.  (1 Corinthians 13:2, The Message)

*I find it interesting how many spiritual gifts are commanded for everyone, but there are some individuals who are especially gifted in that area.

For example, we're all commanded to teach (Matthew 28:20, the Great Commission) but some have the gift of teaching (Romans 12:7, 1 Corinthians 12:28-29). We're all commanded to serve one another (Galatians 5:13), but some have the gift of service (Romans 12:7, 1 Peter 4:11).

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts.

And I will show you a still more excellent way.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.(1 Cor. 12:12-13:13)