Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Ministry--How Did I Get Here?!

"That was dumb!"
"I don't know what I'm doing. How did I get here?"

Those were yesterday's questions--not from someone else; from inside my own head. When we come alongside others or serve in ministry, God is good to put us in deep water from time to time. My feelings of inadequacy weren't just the result of comparing myself to those who know more--although that is a reality. They weren't just a close-up of my own personal sins and flaws--although that, too, is a reality. As I viewed circumstances and potential consequences I sensed failure. Criticism. Pain. Complications. Confusion. 

Not only did I feel inadequate, I saw the reality of my limitations and heard that voice, "Who do you think you are? How can you help others when you can't even help yourself?"

That's why we need the gospel. We cannot change--we cannot help ourselves, or others--apart from the transforming Word and work of God through Jesus Christ and His Spirit.

Last week we cleared brush as part of a mission trip. Branch after branch, tree after tree, we cut, carried, and discarded wagon loads of brush. Applying God's Word is like that. (Thanks, Allison, for the illustration.) Our thoughts take the path of least resistance. If you're into the science of the brain, here's some background info. Left to themselves, they carry us down a path of worry, regret, disappointment, failure, bitterness, despair. When we remain unaware of our thoughts, they take us to dark, lonely, despondent places.

There is another option. We can replace weak, lazy, often sinful, thoughts with God's Word, by creating new paths through our brain. We do this by intentionally choosing God's Word over ours. The more frequently and intensely we pursue a thought pattern, the more quickly and easily our thoughts will choose it. The Holy Spirit wants to take us down God-honoring, true paths, but He can't if they don't exist. This is why memorization and meditation of God's Word is so vital to our Christian walk.

Little by little, thought by thought, circumstance by circumstance, we can renew our minds (literally, physically) to think God's thoughts instead of our own (1 Corinthians 2:16). We can see the world through God's eyes instead of our limited, human ones. We can see ourselves and others from a spiritual point of view. 

In Jesus Christ, I am not just myself, I am a new creature. I have access to His Spirit. His Spirit is in me. With me. Abiding. Through the Spirit of Christ, I can read, understand, and apply the Word of God. It becomes my reality and, though I am aware of my sinful limitations and the world around me, I am not bound by them. I can choose to submit to God, put to death the thoughts and works of the flesh, allow Him to work through me, and love others. With the help of the Holy Spirit and reminders of His Word, I can trust God with past, present, and future circumstances, believing He is already using them to do a good work in my life and the lives of others. 

Because of Jesus' Christ's death, burial, and resurrection, my sin is not a detriment, but a tool. God is greater than my failure and limitations. Jesus Christ gave up His right to remain in Heaven for me. He took on a human form and likeness for me. Limitations, pain, loss, hunger, weariness--for me. Physical and spiritual death, torturous death, in exchange for my sin. He knows and understands my weakness. He died to pay my punishment. Because of Jesus, I walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4). 

When fear of failure, difficult circumstances, or overwhelming odds come my way, I can continue down a path of fear, false bravado, and resignation...or I can create and choose the path of God's design.

...we confidently say, "The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?"

Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace...(Hebrews 13:6-9)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the Lord and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your body
And refreshment to your bones. (Proverbs 3:5-8)

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Time of Storm

America, COVID-19 is here. Riots are here. Our weaknesses are exposed, exploited, and change is not only required, but needed. The storm rises and we are, as individuals, communities, as a nation, divided in our fear and responses.

photo by Corabie din carton

The night the disciples crossed Galilee without Jesus, a storm arose. Although the worked together, straining against the wind, they gained nothing. They had no control over the situation. Their efforts, though great, profited little.

Jesus, praying at the end of a long day, having just learned of his cousin John's unjust beheading, saw their distress. Mark 6:48 says that during the fourth watch of the night (6:00 a.m.), "He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them." What next? He went to them, of course. But what we may miss if we're reading too quickly, is that He intended to pass them by. They didn't perceive it was their friend, Jesus, the Son of God who just fed a multitude of people. They thought it was a ghost. They misinterpreted Jesus' person and power.

What if the disciples had not given in to fear? What if they saw Jesus for who He was? "Look! It's Jesus. How's He walking on water we can hardly get our oars in?" "Jesus, you're amazing!" "Jesus, look at you!" "Jesus, could you give us a hand? We're not going to make it on our own."

His very presence, walking on a sea that threatened to undo them, should have been enough. His deity, supernatural power and grace could have been a comfort. The reminder of His provision and loving care for the physical needs of the crowds could have encouraged their souls. Jesus knew--and came near. He didn't leave them in terror. He didn't walk by without stopping. He didn't scold or reprimand them.

But immediately He spoke with them and said to them, “Take courage; it is I, do not be afraid.” 51 Then He got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped...

Jesus loved them in their fear. He cared for and ministered to their physical needs, their emotional, dare we even say "psychological" response to very real danger. When we are confronted by the storms of life, it's easy to forget God's blessings, provision, and character, to be swept up by our circumstances and misinterpret the nearness of God. 

More than wondering about the imminent danger of wind and waves, I ask, "What's keeping me from seeing Jesus?" What fear, what dread, what storm is interfering with my knowledge and memory of His goodness, grace, mercy and kindness? And I remember that He is not only near. He hears me. He knows my heart, my weakness, sin and frailty...and He is here in the boat.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Blastus and Harbonah--Who??

My dad, who taught adult Sunday school all of my childhood and most of my adult years, takes notice of the least likely characters. One of our favorites is Blastus. Not only is his name memorable and distinct, he was King Herod's personal attendant and a friend of Tyre and Sidon (Acts 12:20). The one mention of his name is just prior to Herod being eaten by worms. It might not take you real far, but thinking about what he saw, heard, and smelled can certainly set off a young imagination and a serious discussion about pride.

Today as I read Esther chapter 7 Harbonah rose to the surface. In each mention and interaction, his chief concern is the safety and well being of the King. In chapter 1, he summoned Queen Vashti. In chapter 7, he is present at the second banquet of Queen Esther and suggests using Haman's newly constructed gallows as they cover Haman's face and take him away. His mission and focus is the king. 

Application? Whose kingdom am I most interested in protecting and promoting? My own? Or the Lord's? How committed am I to promoting Christ instead of myself? To protecting his reputation? To giving up personal comforts and desires in His service? If I had to be honest, it's a constant, moment by moment struggle to serve my King well. Regardless of how it looks to others, the chief concern is my heart--which fluctuates and morphs at a frightening rate.

Even my service is dependent on God's work in and through me. I cannot love Him in my own strength, with my own willpower or efforts. It is an absolutely humbling, God-dependent task, which means He is glorified, not only by the outcome, but by the heart and faith behind it. I cannot, dare not, take credit for serving my King, but as He will and works in my life, He is glorified--and will continue to be eternally glorified--in it all.

How do we get here?

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

By starting here:

Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;  in no way alarmed by your opponents—which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God. For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me. 

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Philippians 1:27-2:13)