Christianity 201

July 26, 2017

He Will Not Forget Your Work

Today’s thoughts are an excerpt of a devotional that appeared last week at DailyEncouragement.net by Stephen and Brooksyne Weber. Click the title below to read at source.

Serving Out Of The Spotlight

“God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them” (Hebrews 6:10).

…The aspiration to do something great is commendable. Yet a sense of unworthiness can sweep over a person, who, after an honest assessment of their giftings or lack thereof, realize they’re simply unable to accomplish anything reckoned as great by others. Many have dropped the baton of service when their aspiring dream never fully materialized. They could only imagine worthiness of ministry if serving in a big way or in the spotlight.

We propose another aspiration that may initially seem rather uninspiring: “do something ordinary for God!” All of us can do that and faithfulness in the ordinary really does matter. In our view the vast, vast majority of work being done for God is done by ordinary people doing ordinary things out of the spotlight.

Now, praise God, sometimes the ordinary does become great, such as the young boy with the fish and bread that Jesus multiplied to feed the crowd. He simply offered the ordinary he had and Jesus performed the miracle. We read nothing more in Scripture of that boy again. We can assume he went on to live an ordinary life, hopefully in faithful service to Christ. Our aspiration should be to glorify God in our obedience and service to Him, not to make anything great of ourselves, let alone seek the spotlight.

Let us consider the daily verse, written to a group of people “The Hebrews”, none of whom we know by name. But as part of the Holy Scriptures we can read this verse applying it to our own lives.

God is not unjust.” That’s a simple four word phrase we do well to memorize. Unjustness permeates our world and at times God’s ways don’t make sense, even tempting us to question His justness. But the infallible Word of God proclaims, “God is not unjust”.

He will not forget your work.” Others may forget or not even notice, but God always sees and remembers!

And the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people.”  How do we show our love for God? Surely through our praises, thankfulness, obedience and in many other ways.  But this verse specifies a way that goes to the very heart of ministry and it’s generally demonstrated in ordinary ways. In some wonderful way as we help and serve God’s people, we are actually helping and serving God. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

And continue to help them” The writer of Hebrews was confident that this help was active and ongoing, as he finished the sentence with this phrase.  Are you in active service for God and His people today?  If so, keep it up.  What a great blessing long-term, faithful, and dependable workers are in the kingdom of God. You may not be in the spotlight, in fact it’s likely you’re not. But He sees and will not forget your work. He generously rewards us in this life but His greater reward will be given in the life to come! Today do something ordinary for God so that He will use it for His extraordinary purposes.

Father, as You call us You also equip us to do that which You lay upon our hearts.  May we respond to those in need in whatever capacity we can help.  Certainly we can pray, we may need to write or call, and then there are the times we are to go and accomplish that which we are called to do. May our motive, in everything we say, do or think be to glorify You as we shine our light, not for our own glory, but always for Your glory and honor while also spotlighting the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Amen.

January 30, 2017

Christianity 201: Devotional # 2500

A man died and went to heaven and on arrival asked if it was true that there are mansions with many rooms with for all. An angel assured him that this was true and offered to guide him to where one had been prepared just for him.

They walked down a street filled with the finest mansions that would be the envy of the highest priced neighborhoods in the western world back on earth.

“Is my house here?” the man asked.

“Just a little further;” said the angel.

They then entered a section of housing which would be compared to a North American upper middle class community.

“It’s here, then?” the man asked.

“Just a little further;” said the angel.

They then moved on to a group of bungalows that were not initially impressive, but, this being heaven after all, were no doubt adequate.

“So here we are;” said the man.

“No, just a little further;” said the angel.

Then the two of them ended up in an area where the houses — more like cabins — were not only much smaller, but there were only a couple of rooms and some elements of the walls, floors and ceilings were missing.

Pointing to a nearby dwelling, the angel said, “That one is your house.”

“There is no way,” said the man, “That I can live in something like that.”

“I’m very sorry;” replied the angel; “But we did the best we could with the materials you sent up.”

…This apocryphal sermon illustration is usually told in reference to Matthew 6: 19-20 which reads:

19 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. NLT

But what constitutes treasure?

As I consider 2,500 posts here at Christianity 201, I look back to when I started this, wanting to produce something of substance that would cause people to dig a little deeper or consider something they might not have thought of before.

I’m a person who can speak with spiritual confidence and authority to an individual or group one minute; and then be struck by a feeling of total inadequacy the next; a form of spiritual intimidation, or spiritual inferiority complex. Why is this? I think much of it has to do with feeling at the end of the day that I simply haven’t accomplished enough for the Kingdom of God. The sun sets or the computer is turned off or it’s time for bed and I ask myself, what did I really do today that was of lasting value of significance?

It’s not that I wasn’t busy doing Kingdom work, it’s just that I fear I wasn’t busy doing the right things. I feel that by not letting my talents be used to the maximum, I have missed the mark (the same idiom by which the word sin is defined in Greek) of God’s highest calling. You could say that I not only have ‘performance-based religion’ issues, but I’m additionally burdened with combining it with a Type A personality when it comes to what I would like to see happen.

So… I need to be reminded that God still loves me even I didn’t do all the the things or type of things that I thought God was expecting of me. I need to be reminded that it’s about what God’s wants me to be that matters.

However, I can’t just toss out the consideration of what it means to give my best to God each day. I have to have certain goals or ideals or standards of attainment. The verses that I think match up best with the heaven story above are these from I Cor. 3 —

12 Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. 13 But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. 14 If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. 15 But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames. NLT

Some of you know these verses from the KJ text as referring to: “Gold, silver and precious stones;” contrasted with “wood, hay and stubble.”

In the Christian internet world, a lot of what is written — including what I myself post at Thinking Out Loud — is wood, hay and stubble. I started Christianity 201 because I wanted something that would be of substance, something made of gold, silver and precious stones.

So while Christianity is not performance-based, if we’re going to launch out into any endeavor at all (in response to what Christ has done for us) we should aim for that thing to be of the highest quality, the finest purity, the greatest depth and the most lasting significance. We can discuss other things, and comment on the issues of the day in religion, politics, social justice, the environment, church life, parenting, education, marriage, missions, theology, or even the weather; but at the end of the day, we need to bring something best to the table; something that not only touches readers, but touches the heart of God Himself.

That’s living out our Christ-following at the next level.

That’s Christianity 201.

When the music fades
All is stripped away
And I simply come
Longing just to bring
Something that’s of worth
That will bless your heart

I’ll bring You more than a song
For a song in itself
Is not what You have required
You search much deeper within
Through the way things appear
You’re looking into my heart…

October 3, 2016

Serving with Determination and Perseverance

This devotional came recommended to us, and is from Seeds of the Kingdom the devotional page of  Ellel Ministries*, an organization with branches on many continents.

Keep On Keeping On

by Denise Cross

Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not loss heartGalatians 6:9, NIV

Many years ago, when I was a young Christian, I was taught that believers should expect that doing God’s work would always be challenging and difficult. Indeed, this very fact of contention, they believed, proved that the work was a ‘good’ work.

However, later I discovered that other believers had a different expectation. They believed that, if something was a God-ordained plan, it would all fall into place with no struggles, because God Himself had gone ahead and prepared the way.

After a good few years of being involved in Ellel Ministries, it seems to me that neither of these extremes is true. There may be times when things go easily, and we feel the path ahead is easy, but there may also be battles, and discouragement along the way.

I can only think that Paul himself might have been feeling a little weary and discouraged when he wrote this letter to his friends in Galatia. They were obviously showing signs of being tired and discouraged, and needed to remember that perseverance and determination were what was needed. They had, perhaps, started with enthusiasm and excitement, but they’d hit difficulties of some kind, and their energy seemed to be running out. Paul is saying “Don’t give up. It will be worth it in the end. Keep your eye on the finishing line. What you’re seeking to achieve will come to fruition, and you’ll see the completion, and feel rewarded”.

I wonder if you’re feeling weary today, or losing heart about something you’re doing. Have you started something which you feel sure God’s laid on your heart, but it’s all taking longer, or proving much more difficult, than you first expected? Are you wondering when, or if ever, you’ll see the harvest of your efforts?

We may just need to ‘keep on keeping on’, because it’s just a matter of time until the ‘due season’ arrives, or maybe we need some rest to catch our breath, so we can re-focus on the goal, and push onward with renewed determination. Perhaps we need some extra support in prayer, or practical help, before we can totally reap the reward

If you’re feeling tired of doing good, you can ask God to refresh you, to refocus you and to give you a new determination to complete the work He’s put before you. Then you will, in the fullness of His perfect timing, see the end results of your efforts, and have the delight of hearing His ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’.

Prayer: Father God, You’ve called me, and trusted me to do good works, Kingdom works for You, in ways You’ve planned for me. Thank You that, if, and when, I grow weary, I can turn to You for refreshing, re-inspiring and re-energizing to continue with those good works. Please speak Your encouragement to me today. I ask it in the precious name of Jesus. Amen.


* What does Ellel mean?

Ellel Ministries takes its name from its first building in England, Ellel Grange, which is near the village of Ellel, in Lancashire.

In old English, the name Ellel means ‘All hail’ which means ‘All glory to God’
In Hebrew, Ellel means ‘towards God’
In Mandarin Chinese, it means ‘love flowing outwards (愛流).

So Ellel could be said to mean ‘All hail, Jesus, All glory to Him’ and be expressed as ‘Love flowing outwards’ into a fallen and broken world, where we are helping people move ‘towards God’. It is all for His glory.

July 1, 2016

Unnecessarily Troubled

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Mary and Martha imgHeather is a former Mormon who doesn’t write often, but I had bookmarked this devotional many months ago and noted we still hadn’t run it here. Click the link below to read this at source and look around Jesus Is All, her blog.

Be Mary Not Martha

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42, ESV)

To put this story into context, the “they” at the beginning is Jesus, his twelve apostles, plus 72 disciples who have just returned from traveling abroad and preaching.  This group of at least 85 have been invited into the home of sisters Mary and Martha. Immediately, Martha gets to work, as I think a majority of us would do.

Let me say something here, there is nothing wrong with WHAT Martha is trying to do, only HOW she is going about it.  The bible is full of calls to serve others; Jesus Himself praised the service of others (see John 6).  So why this time didn’t he praise Martha for her willingness to serve?

There are two key words in these verses, “distracted” and “anxious”.  Martha is so “distracted” with her busyness that she doesn’t have time to enjoy the presence of the Lord in her home.  She has made her “to do list” her focus, rather than being focused on Jesus.  She’s focused on feeding the crowd, while Mary is focused on feeding her spirit.  This is frustrating to Martha, she feels that she is doing something helpful and noble, while her sister is over there lazily lounging around doing “nothing”.  She eventually gets so frazzled that she asks Jesus to make Mary help her.

Of course this crowd in their home is probably tired and hungry, and Martha sees a need and wants to feed them.  However, Mary realizes that the Bread of Life, the Living Waters, is more satisfying to her soul than anything she could offer the Savior and his group.  She has chosen the “good portion”.

So back to my question…why didn’t Jesus praise Martha’s efforts?  Because Jesus knows our hearts, He knows our thoughts.  He knew that Martha had made herself “anxious” and “troubled” unnecessarily.  He could see that her joy wasn’t in serving but in gaining approval. She was using her service to validate her self-worth and her righteousness.  Knowing this, Jesus didn’t get angry at her or tell her to quit working, He lovingly pointed out that she had another choice, the one that her sister had already made.

If you are currently caught up in what you think you “have to do” or “should do” to prove yourself to God, please reconsider your actions.  Ask God in prayer if what you are doing is what He wants you to be doing.  Maybe you are distracting yourself and making yourself anxious doing things that aren’t necessary.  Any time you are faced with an opportunity to serve, ask yourself if you would be doing it simply because you love to serve, or because you are looking for approval from God or from other people.

There is NOTHING we can do to prove ourselves to God.  As it says in Isaiah 64:6 (KJV), “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags”.  There is no checklist God asked us to complete for Him.  All Jesus asks for in return for redeeming us is for us to love Him and seek after Him. My personal goal is to be constantly seeking after God.  I don’t really care anymore what anyone else thinks of what I do or don’t do, only what God thinks of me.  It is very freeing to let God be your guide and do what you know He wants you to do, rather than trying to impress God by doing what you assume He might want you to do.  One of the reasons I haven’t blogged for awhile is I would’ve only been doing it because I felt I was “supposed to” and I felt guilty I hadn’t written. My writing has been sporadic because I wait for the times when I feel God is putting the desire to write and the message I should write about in my mind.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23, ESV)


Read more: We looked at Martha and Mary previously in March, 2015 in an article with a similar title, Troubled About Many Things.

June 25, 2016

Imobilized

Today’s devotional is from Soulfari, a site that I’ve been following for many years. The author is . To read at source, or leave a comment click the link below.

Fear of Falling

I’m restless today…

I tend to feel that way, the sensation of someone relentlessly tugging at my sleeve, trying to get my attention, attempting to pull me in different direction. Sometimes it wearies me with its persistent cry for my focus, for my deep introspection to discover the cause behind such unrest in my spirit. When I commit to explore the crevices of my fidgety spirit, I’m often surprised by the mystery revealed.

I’m restless because I’m not satisfied.

I want more from life and from my relationship with God. I want a stronger marriage and a greater connection with my children. The desire to make a meaningful impact on this world drives me daily and to settle for anything less seems pointless. This tug on my sleeve is a welcomed one… but there is one that is not.

I’m restless because I’m afraid.

Afraid of loss,

Afraid of failure,

Afraid of rejection,

Afraid of the unknown.

The fear of falling (Basiphobia) is a strong phobia and can cripple, immobilize and rob freedom from the strongest person. For our heart, in a spiritual sense, it’s just as dangerous. Loss, failure, rejection, the unknown threaten our spirit daily, trying to get us to believe a lie.

These restless tugs are connected; they meet at the crossroad of faith and fear. Just when I’m disturbed enough to move out/step out in faith, the fear of falling raises its ugly head and lying tongue.

The lie of falling

The fear of falling lies to me, tugs on my sleeve, fabricates a story of doubt and guilt. A story meant to immobilize my heart and stop me in my tracks… afraid to move out in faith. This enemy wants my heart to believe that I’m doomed to fall and that my falls are always fatal and final.

The truth of falling

“Though he fall, he shall not be cast down; for Jehovah upholds his hand.” Psalm 37:24

Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault. Jude 1:24

So, I’m checking out that tug I feel on the sleeve of my heart. I don’t want to settle for less than all that God has for me, nor do I want the fear of falling compromise my faithfulness to the call on my life. For that I need more of Him.

“All our falls are useful if they strip us of a disastrous confidence in ourselves, while they do not take away a humble and saving trust in God.” – Francois Fenelon

 

How about you… are you afraid of “falling” in something Father God has asked you to do? How can I pray for you?

March 5, 2016

Having, Or Not Having, A ‘Specific’ Calling

Elsie Montgomery BlogToday we pay a return visit to the writing of Elsie Montgomery at the blog Practical Faith.

Okay, I simply copied and pasted that. And it’s easy to take the various contributing writers — some of whom never knew the first time they were contributing — for granted; but this is the tenth time we’ve used Elsie’s writing here. As someone who prepares something like this every day, even though I don’t do original writing each time, I know the work that goes into this. Take a look at Elsie’s archives in the graphic at right and note the number of posts per year. Wow! More than 10 years, and closing in on 4,000 blog posts. Faithfulness!

So today, even if you don’t normally, click on the link in the graphic or in the title below and then pick out one more blog post to read.

The work is not as important as why I do it

Some Christians are called to specific tasks, but I’ve never received a “calling” from God, or a vision from Him concerning how I’m supposed to serve Him. In several places, the Bible mentions people who have special tasks:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11–12)

However this is a list of gifted people with titles and functions, not the same as a specific vision like “preach the gospel to the Inuit” or “teach children in your local church.”

Chambers assumes it is easier to serve God without a vision because you use common sense or human logic to guide whatever ministry to be involved in, giving more opportunity for personal leisure and prosperity. He says that having a commission from Jesus Christ is like a goad to keep you from working on any other basis than sacrificial service. His comments come from this verse . . .

But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:24)

Paul’s life was precious only on the basis of fulfilling his ministry. He refused to use his energy for anything else. This is my goal too, but is a “calling” necessary toward having that attitude? Echoing in my ear is the speaker at a writers’ conference who said: “We are called to love and obey God; today He might be asking you to write, tomorrow it might be something else.”

What if Paul, bent on building churches, was asked by God to stop and take care of a Samaritan in a ditch? Would he say no, this is not within his calling? Is it more difficult to have a vision and aim at only that, or more difficult to moment by moment listen to the voice of God and do whatever He asks for that moment?

While it didn’t happen to Paul, I can imagine those who have a vision or a calling being so focused on it that it becomes an idol, a “this is my work” thing. Chambers says “practical work” (aka ‘no vision’) is based on this argument—‘Remember how useful you are here,’ or—‘Think how much value you would be in that particular type of work.’ I don’t see why a person with a vision could not fall into the same trap.

He says those who are “not gripped by Jesus Christ” will “count service dear, time given to God dear, life dear” as if having a vision makes others immune to such temptations. I am not convinced. I’ve seen those with a vision who began to count their vision dear, their time given to God dear, their life dear, all because of their calling.

John Calvin suggests that the human heart is an idol-making factory. Being gripped by God is one thing, but our fight between the flesh and His Spirit is constant. Vision or not, that sinful nature can rear its ugly face and twist motivations from glorifying Christ to glorifying self. Paul admits that he fought it just as all of us do, and shares with his readers what God did to help him stay on course . . .

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:7–9)

The danger is not in the “practical work” which Chambers say can become competition “against abandonment to God.’ Instead, it seems that the greater danger is any kind of attitude that abandons Jesus Christ as my Guide and lures me into using my own judgment.

The point is not about a life-calling or even what I am doing in day-to-day obedience, but that I must forever remember that I am not my own but His.

January 27, 2016

Prophetic Reluctance: Jeremiah

A few days ago we introduced the term prophetic reluctance and interestingly enough it was also connected to Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 20:9

But if I say, “I will not mention his word
    or speak anymore in his name,”
his word is in my heart like a fire,
    a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in;
    indeed, I cannot.

Eugene Peterson renders this in The Message:

But if I say, “Forget it! No more God-Messages from me!” The words are fire in my belly, a burning in my bones. I’m worn out trying to hold it in. I can’t do it any longer!

The NIV Study Bible notes that this one verse indicates two seemingly contradictory inclinations: a prophetic reluctance that is overcome by a divine compulsion.

…Today we pay a return visit to the blog Weeping Into Dancing. I had a hard time choosing which devotional article to feature here, so I really hope you’ll click the title below and then take a few minutes to look around at other items.

Will You Speak?

Uniquely formed by the hands of God, with special gifts and talents, each one of us has been created to fulfill a specific purpose. Understanding the cost of our redemption, a freely given blood sacrifice, humbles man into submission. Therefore, we yield our will and take up His instead. Obedience, faith, and trust draws one into Christian service, but it is our love for the blessed Redeemer that propels us forward into unknown territory.

The prophet Jeremiah was very young when the Lord called him into service. He was ordained to be a prophet, a mouthpiece for God. Understanding the importance of such a position, he was filled with fear. He felt all of his insufficiencies. But God insisted that he go where he was sent, and speak as he was commanded. God persuaded Jeremiah there was nothing to fear, saying He would be with him to provide any necessary deliverance.

“Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: 

‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you;  Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.’

 Then said I:

‘Ah, Lord God! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth.’

 But the Lord said to me:

‘Do not say, “I am a youth,” for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you,’ says the Lord.”

From that moment, Jeremiah lost all fear and pronounced the sad prophecies and warnings of God, without regard for the king and his strong men. This was often at the peril of his life. However, God was faithful to protect and deliver him from all harm. This is not to say he was free of trials and hardship, including time in a cistern. (Jeremiah 38)

Jeremiah lived during one of the most devastating periods in Jewish history. He saw the destruction of Jerusalem, after his warnings and prophecies fell on deaf ears. How sad it must have been to speak words of warning yet see them ignored. Once the catastrophe came, he lamented the terrible fate of his people in the Book Lamentations.

Hope found in Jesus ChristAs children of God, we ALL have a responsibility to share the Good News with others. To hold on to this hope, found in Jesus Christ, and not speak of it is contrary to our calling. The Great Commission is not just for missionaries, evangelists, preachers, or teachers. We all need to be ready and willing to give a reason for the hope that lives within our hearts. Fear will try to hold our tongue, but like Jeremiah, we must trust God to give us the words to say and the deliverance from every evil.

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” 1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)

Some will ask, “What about the Christians who have been unjustly imprisoned for their faith? How is God protecting them? So many Christians are facing dreadful atrocities, painful persecution, even murder for simply professing their faith in Christ.

Here now is the hard pill to swallow. How do we know God hasn’t delivered them? Our heavenly Father is a God of compassion. He wants the very best for us. Although our feeble minds might not fathom the purpose for such trials and suffering, should we toss aside what we do know of God’s righteous character? Surely our faith assures us that there is some good, some great work, and some wondrous reward for those who refuse to deny Christ. We must remember our inheritance is in heaven.

The heavenly Father had a purpose for Jeremiah. God’s plan was to use Jeremiah to pronounce judgment upon the people of that time. It was not a job he relished. In all honesty can we say, should an opportunity arise, that we too would speak the truth regarding our faith, even if it led to persecution? Would we deny Christ to avoid imprisonment… or even death? The day may soon be upon us when the faith of every American is questioned, just as it is now questions in Syria, Iran, and across this world.

But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 10:33 (NKJV)

January 17, 2016

The Good News, Bad News of Ministry Life

If you knew me many years ago, there was a period when I would sign letters

I Corinthians 16-9

In my mind, the verse played out in the KJV text that I first learned it from:

For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries.

Today, I would probably refer you to a more recent translation, such as the NLT:

There is a wide-open door for a great work here, although many oppose me.

If you think about, this is the format of every missionary, church, or parachurch organization fundraising letter or ministry report you’ve ever received.

→ The good news is: God is working in the lives of people, we are seeing results.
→ The bad news is: We face [financial/staffing/logistical/spiritual-warfare/etc.] challenges.

There’s always a challenge. Today in church, the guest speaker shared this:

The greatest challenge in life is not having a burden to carry.

That’s right, without some mountain to climb or river to cross, our lives would actually be rather boring. Certainly there would be no growth. I discussed that quotation with a friend after the service was over, and he said, “Yes, but that’s we all want. We want it to be easy.”

Matthew Henry writes:

Great success in the work of the gospel commonly creates many enemies. The devil opposes those most, and makes them most trouble, who most heartily and successfully set themselves to destroy his kingdom. There were many adversaries; and therefore the apostle determined to stay.

Some think he alludes in this passage to the custom of the Roman Circus, and the doors of it, at which the charioteers were to enter, as their antagonists did at the opposite doors. True courage is whetted by opposition; and it is no wonder that the Christian courage of the apostle should be animated by the zeal of his adversaries. They were bent to ruin him, and prevent the effect of his ministry at Ephesus; and should he at this time desert his station, and disgrace his character and doctrine?

No, the opposition of adversaries only animated his zeal. He was in nothing daunted by his adversaries; but the more they raged and opposed the more he exerted himself. Should such a man as he flee?

Note, Adversaries and opposition do not break the spirits of faithful and successful ministers, but only kindle their zeal, and inspire them with fresh courage.

I checked out a number of commentaries online for this verse, and ended up pulling out several of my print commentaries. One of the greatest insights came at the bottom of the page of the NIV Study Bible:

many who oppose me. Probably a reference to the pagan craftsman who made the silver shrines of Artemis and to the general populace whom they had stirred up (Acts 19:23-34).

Interesting that what appeared to be spiritual opposition was actually rooted in commerce; people who had a vested financial interest in maintaining commercial interests in a pagan form of worship. Think about Jesus and the money-changers in the temple:

NIV Matt. 21:12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.

I’ll let Eugene Peterson re-phrase the Acts reference above:

23-26 …a huge ruckus occurred over what was now being referred to as “the Way.” A certain silversmith, Demetrius, conducted a brisk trade in the manufacture of shrines to the goddess Artemis, employing a number of artisans in his business. He rounded up his workers and others similarly employed and said, “Men, you well know that we have a good thing going here—and you’ve seen how Paul has barged in and discredited what we’re doing by telling people that there’s no such thing as a god made with hands. A lot of people are going along with him, not only here in Ephesus but all through Asia province.

27 “Not only is our little business in danger of falling apart, but the temple of our famous goddess Artemis will certainly end up a pile of rubble as her glorious reputation fades to nothing. And this is no mere local matter—the whole world worships our Artemis!”

28-31 That set them off in a frenzy. They ran into the street yelling, “Great Artemis of the Ephesians! Great Artemis of the Ephesians!” They put the whole city in an uproar, stampeding into the stadium, and grabbing two of Paul’s associates on the way, the Macedonians Gaius and Aristarchus. Paul wanted to go in, too, but the disciples wouldn’t let him. Prominent religious leaders in the city who had become friendly to Paul concurred: “By no means go near that mob!”

32-34 Some were yelling one thing, some another. Most of them had no idea what was going on or why they were there. As the Jews pushed Alexander to the front to try to gain control, different factions clamored to get him on their side. But he brushed them off and quieted the mob with an impressive sweep of his arms. But the moment he opened his mouth and they knew he was a Jew, they shouted him down: “Great Artemis of the Ephesians! Great Artemis of the Ephesians!”—on and on and on, for over two hours.

Some people believe that finding the heart of many world and regional conflicts is simply a matter of “follow the money.” The point is that we don’t know and we don’t always see why people are so very bent on opposing us in ministry. Not to minimize Matthew Henry’s interpretation, it’s simply too easy to say, ‘It’s the Devil;’ or put things into some general spiritual warfare category. Maybe your devout faith and witness are simply “bad for business” for someone nearby.

…My opinion would be that where ministry is taking place many challenges and overt opposition will occur. If it’s not, maybe you’re doing it wrong.

Greater opportunities = Greater opposition.

But the good news is that most of the time the opposite is also true.

Greater opposition = Greater opportunities.

Romans 5:20b (KJV) says,

But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.

Ministry life involves both: Great opportunities for harvest and life change, and many who would rather keep the status quo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 28, 2015

Hudson Taylor Quotations

Hudson Taylor

Phil 2:16 NIV holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain. 17But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all.

Romans 12:1 The Voice Brothers and sisters, in light of all I have shared with you about God’s mercies, I urge you to offer your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice to God, a sacred offering that brings Him pleasure; this is your reasonable, essential worship.

As I’ve been watching the live stream of the Urbana 2015 Conference (continuing all week) I couldn’t help notice that the keynote speaker, Dr. Patrick Fung, is constantly quoting Hudson Taylor, and I realized we’ve never done a quotations piece from him here.

For those who don’t know him, Wikipedia supplies us with this:

James Hudson Taylor (Chinese: 戴德生; 21 May 1832 – 3 June 1905) was a British Protestant Christian missionary to China and founder of the China Inland Mission (CIM, now OMF International). Taylor spent 51 years in China. The society that he began was responsible for bringing over 800 missionaries to the country who began 125 schools and directly resulted in 18,000 Christian conversions, as well as the establishment of more than 300 stations of work with more than 500 local helpers in all eighteen provinces.

Taylor was known for his sensitivity to Chinese culture and zeal for evangelism. He adopted wearing native Chinese clothing even though this was rare among missionaries of that time. Under his leadership, the CIM was singularly non-denominational in practice and accepted members from all Protestant groups, including individuals from the working class, and single women as well as multinational recruits. Primarily because of the CIM’s campaign against the Opium trade, Taylor has been referred to as one of the most significant Europeans to visit China in the 19th Century. Historian Ruth Tucker summarizes the theme of his life:

No other missionary in the nineteen centuries since the Apostle Paul has had a wider vision and has carried out a more systematized plan of evangelizing a broad geographical area than Hudson Taylor.

Take some time to dwell on these, and then leave a comment if one particularly impressed you.


Christ is either Lord of all, or He is not Lord at all.


The intense activities of our times may lead to zeal in service, to the neglect of personal communion; but such neglect will not only lessen the value of the service, but tend to incapacitate us for the highest service.


I have found that there are three stages in every great work of God: first, it is impossible, then it is difficult, then it is done.


I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realize the Lord is able to carry out His will, and His will is mine. It makes no matter where He places me, or how. That is rather for Him to consider than for me; for in the easiest positions He must give me His grace, and in the most difficult, His grace is sufficient.


I used to ask God to help me. Then I asked if I might help Him. I ended up by asking God to do His work though me.


Many Christians estimate difficulty in the light of their own resources, and thus they attempt very little and they always fail. All giants have been weak men who did great things for God because they reckoned on His power and presence to be with them.


Do not have your concert first, and then tune your instrument afterwards. Begin the day with the Word of God and prayer, and get first of all into harmony with Him.


To me it seemed that the teaching of God’s Word was unmistakably clear: ‘Owe no man anything.’ To borrow money implied to my mind a contradiction of Scripture–a confession that God had withheld some good thing, and determination to get for ourselves what He had not given.


Fruit-bearing involves cross-bearing.


Argument almost always leaves behind a sore feeling in the heart of the one who has been worsted. By loving teaching, by Christ-like living, we are to win this people for our Lord. They do not understand what disinterested love and unselfishness mean: you are to go and live it among them.


The good works of the unsaved may indeed benefit their fellow-creatures; but until life in Christ has been received, they cannot please God.


God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supplies.


sources: Christian Quotes, GoodReads, BrainyQuote, SearchQuotes, LifeQuotes,   OMF.org

 

October 30, 2015

Serving Others

Acts 9:36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. 37 About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. 38 Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!”

39 Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.

40 Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. 41 He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive. 42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. 43 Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.

Today’s devotional was found at the multi-author website The Domain for Truth, and the author of this piece is Jim Lee. Click the title below to read this at source, and then take a minute to browse other articles there.

Dorcas: Serving Others and the Resurrection

Have you ever met someone in your church who was a huge servant?  They did everything out of selfless love and generosity.  They did it to serve the LORD.  Ultimately it was for an audience of One.  They were very humble about their ministry.  Yet everyone knew about their service to the Lord despite how they quietly served.  Sometimes one only find out the extent of their service to the church after they had passed away.  So when such a servant departs, it is a great loss to the church.  Yet they also leave behind a great example of service to the Lord.

In Acts 9:36-43 we see such a woman who was an example of such a saint.  Her name was Dorcas, she followed Christ’s example of how to humbly serve the LORD for heavenly rewards and not for earthly recognition.  She reached out to widows and served others in love.  According to verse 39 she helped the widows by making them tunics and garments.   She also spent them “with them.”  Widows can be easily forgotten by others.  But not Dorcas who remembered the widows and thus she obeyed God’s command to honor and care for the widows (1 Timothy 5:3).

Then one day she got sick and died.  The people who knew her and her service to the Lord were heartbroken.  Look at verses 37-39 and what it says.  Notice how Scripture states that Dorcas’ body was not buried right away.  Which would be unusual if they were familiar with Jewish customs.  Did the disciples and her friends expect and hope that God would use Peter to bring about a miracle?  The LORD graciously answered their prayers as we see in verse 40-41.  As a result people come to know the Lord.  But then again even when Dorcas was alive the Lord was already using her testimony.

While this story has the unusual twist that God brought her back to life through Peter, we too must consider our service to God in light of the future resurrection that is promised to believers.  Are you motivated to serve God and those in your community out of loving obedience to Christ?  Does the thought of one day meeting your Savior face-to-face make you want to love others in a way that pleases Him?

Reflection and Discussion

  • Do you know anyone that is like Dorcas in your life?  Consider how their example can encourage you to serve the Lord and love others within the church.
  • Are their widows in your church that you have shown love and care for?  Who are the people within the church that perhaps God has placed in your heart to minister to?  Consider the possibility that it might be of another generation or background.  What are some possible ways you can be of service to them?
  • Serving the Lord in a community might not always be easy.  How does the Gospel help us desire to serve Him?  Specifically, what about Jesus would make us want to serve God and love others?  Similarly what about the Resurrection?

 

 

August 27, 2015

The Reward of Sacrificial Following

Today we’re at the website TillHeComes.org and before we jump into the text, here’s the setup from the previous verse:

28Then Peter said, “See, we have left all and followed You.”

Peter’s ears perked up when Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor, and then come follow Jesus. This is very close to what Peter and the other apostles had in fact done.  And so Peter is a little curious. He says, “Hey, we’ve done what you told that rich young ruler to do. We have left everything. We have followed you. What does that mean for us?”

And Jesus, knowing that all of his apostles except Judas truly has believed in him for eternal life tells them what their sacrifice and service will result in. He doesn’t rebuke Peter for asking a selfish question, for it is not a selfish question. There is nothing wrong with seeking the things of God.

Many times we refer to the cost of following Christ, but in Luke 18:29-30, Jesus, replying to Peter, suggests there is also great reward, even reward to be had in this life (“in the present time”) as well as the age to come, which the commentary below emphasizes.  The webpage here — and we’ve linked to Jeremy Myers before — deals with a much longer section, verses 18-30.  To read it all (encouraged!) click on the link below.

Paying the Entrance Fee

29So He said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

You see, good works and sacrificial service are very beneficial, but only AFTER one has believed in Jesus for eternal life. They earn reward and privilege and greater responsibility in this life and in the next. It most often will not be financial reward, but spiritual rewards of one sort or another.  And this verse should not and must not be used to justify neglecting your family for ministry. We know when we get married and have children, our first sphere of ministry is in the home. Men, your primary ministry is to your wife and children. If you fulfill that ministry and have time left over, you can serve some at the church. Women, same thing for you and your ministry with your husband and your children.

What Jesus means by talking about leaving parents, brothers, wife and children is to make sure that they are not holding you back from God’s will for your life. Ministering to them is God’s will for your life, but if there ever comes a point where they try to keep you back from doing the rest of God’s will for you life, this is when you must choose to serve God or serve others.  If you choose to serve God, and leave your family for the sake of the kingdom, Jesus says that your reward will be great, both in this age, and in the age to come.

Here Jesus teaches his disciples about reward. He doesn’t rebuke Peter for wondering what he is going to get in heaven. Instead he encourages Peter to keep on serving in the Kingdom of God, because the better you serve, the more reward in heaven you get. It is not selfish to seek the things of God.  We all want more of God in our lives. That is not selfish. We all want to know the Bible better. That is not selfish. We all want God to answer our prayers. That is not selfish. We all want God to be at work more in our lives and to see his hand at work in our presence. That is not selfish.  Neither is it selfish to want riches in heaven, and to hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

The rich young ruler, though he came asking about eternal life, revealed that he was only seeking to hold on to his worldly wealth. Peter and the other apostles, after having believed in Jesus for eternal life, gave up their wealth and worldly relationships. As a result, they earned for themselves great reward in heaven.

How great? The Bible tells us that in the Millennial kingdom, the twelve apostles will sit on twelve thrones ruling over the twelve tribes of Israel (Mt. 19:28). Israel will be the greatest nation in the world and will rule over the entire world also, and so the apostles will be some of the twelve most powerful men on the earth during that time. And we are fairly certain that it was Paul who will take the place of Judas.

Now, Luke 19:11-27 tells us that the rest of the world will be divided up and given to faithful servants of God to rule over. That means that you and I, if we are faithful servants, may also be given cities or maybe even countries which Jesus Christ will want us to rule. Not all will rule, some will simply be subjects in the kingdom, and they will be ruled over, rather than be rulers.

Some Christians will be given positions of reward and responsibility for a life lived in faithful service to Jesus Christ. Other Christians will enter the kingdom because they have believed in Jesus for eternal life, but they won’t have much gold, jewels, precious stones or crowns that will be given to them.  We will be talking about eternal rewards a lot more in the weeks to come. Let me just close with this. The lesson from the rich young ruler is that all of us are sinners. If a person is self-righteous like the rich young ruler, the law can be used to shows them that they have indeed offended a holy God.

And once they have seen this, it is much easier to show them that they only way they can be reconciled to God is by the blood of Jesus, through our faith in Him.  But once we have done that, we must make sure we do not stop there, for there are great rewards and blessings in store for those who make service to Christ a top priority. And we’ve seen the two extremes today. One man, the rich young ruler, who didn’t want to give up his riches. And one man, Peter, who gave up all to follow Christ.

Which category do you fall in? Are you seeking the things of this world, where moths and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, or are you seeking after the riches of the world to come? The first may give you momentary pleasure while on this earth, but the second will give you everlasting joy in the kingdom which is to come.

August 16, 2015

Lord, I Can’t Do This; Please Get Somebody Else

A few days ago we looked at how Moses was reluctant to be God’s chosen mouthpiece and his reasons why God should get someone else. Our particular focus there was the public speaking aspect of the job God was calling Moses to do.

But sometimes it’s not public speaking, we have other reasons why we just wish God would choose someone else. (After writing this, I realized there’s also a tie-in to our devotional from two days ago; that often we just wish we could be somewhere else.)

I never really thought of this verse in this context until a sermon I heard this morning, but certainly God understands when we are struck by our limitations:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses – Hebrews 4:15a

and an earlier verse in the same book:

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity – Hebrews 2:14

In Christ we have a role model, who as he took on a mission that, in his humanity, as Calvary loomed large, caused him to ask if there were not a better way or a different way. It’s like he was almost saying, ‘Maybe someone else can take over at this point.’ Okay, I know that’s not the way it works, but you do get a sense of the anguish that Christ as feeling at that time.

But sometimes we hesitate to enter into the mission God has for us because of condemnation. This is a difficult subject to address because sin needs to be dealt with before a person is fit for public ministry (which might include everything from teaching a class to helping at the soup kitchen.) But sometimes the condemnation is simply an attack of the enemy.

I John 3:20 states,

If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

From the Forerunner Commentary at BibleStudyTools.org:

When we commit the occasional sin, are we no longer acceptable to God? Is our fellowship truly cut off? While it is true that sin separates us from Him, do we remain unsatisfied because we feel there is no communion? Once again, God’s grace rescues us from what would otherwise be an impossible situation.

The answer to this confounding situation lies in a change of our natures arising from repentance, receipt of God’s Holy Spirit, and—perhaps above all—access to God through Jesus Christ. Through these come fellowship and experience with Them throughout the remainder of life and access to God’s merciful grace when we fall short. There can be no doubt we are saved by grace through faith. Our depression and extreme self-condemnation reveals a lack of faith in God’s willingness to forgive upon repentance. Though works are required of us, we cannot earn our way into the Kingdom through them because they will forever fall short in providing payment for sin.

As mentioned earlier, there is a tension between the two extremes of excessive guilt and feelings of worthlessness in contrast to the casual, careless, irresponsible, “God will just have to take me as I am” disregard of our responsibility to glorify God in all we think, say, and do.

This is why John says, “God is greater than our heart.” He is ever willing to accept us as Christ—even though we personally bring Him blemished offerings in our life’s experiences—as long as our attitude has not turned to trampling the sacrifice of His Son underfoot and treating it as a common thing.

We will never enter into God’s acceptance and fellowship based on any work of offering we sacrifice to Him. The only thing He will accept is the unblemished offering of Christ’s life, and because it accompanies or precedes us into His presence, we are accepted, have communion with Him, and are fed.

[read more at Bible Study Tools]

Ephesians 3:12 states:

 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

If we find ourselves in a battle, Ephesians 6:13b reminds us:

…[W]hen you have done everything you could, you will be able to stand firm. (ISV)

Our local congregations are in need of people who are able to give their time in ministry service, but many are afraid to step up because of what the commentary above calls excessive guilt; however, our texts today I hope help us see that this may just be another tactic of the enemy to get us to quit.

Don’t get discouraged and don’t get overcome by feelings of inadequacy.

 

 

 

 

 

May 21, 2015

Remember Who?

Forgotten Apostles

by Clarke Dixon

I grew up watching wrestling, specifically the show “Maple Leaf Wrestling.” Part of what I remember is how predictable most of the matches were. The first contender would be be announced, usually a man no heavier than myself, nor taller, nor more muscular. Then they would announce the “big name,” someone like Big John Stud or Andre the Giant who would go on to decimate them. The outcome was always predictable. I’m not sure why the small guys even bothered to get into the ring, except of course that they were being paid to lose. And don’t ask me their names for they were forgettable as wrestlers next to the giants.

Perhaps we may feel that our performance as Christians is meagre, even forgettable. We may feel that it makes no sense to step into the ring for there are spiritual giants who do the Christian thing so much better than we do. We can think of the call to witness to a seeker, the call to righteousness, the call to investing our lives in the lives of others, the call to getting over ourselves, the call to love, the call to forgiveness, and the call to prayer. We can think of people who do these Christian things so much better than we can, they are spiritual giants. Let them enter the ring since they have so much more to offer. We may choose therefore to make Christianity a spectator sport and never get into the ring ourselves.

If you feel your Christian service is forgettable, you are in good company. Consider Matthias who was chosen to replace Judas in the earliest days of the Christian Church. Matthias was chosen for an extremely important role and he had the right qualifications:

So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us– one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” Acts 1:21-22 NRSV

Since Matthias fits this description we know he was well versed in the teaching and life of Jesus. He could attest personally to the death and resurrection of Jesus. He also had the Lord’s blessing on his choice as Judas’ successor:

Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles. Acts 1:24-26 24 NRSV

The interesting thing about Matthias is that he just disappears from the pages of the Bible. Despite amazing credentials and the Lord’s blessing we never hear about him again. His work for the Lord, his response to God’s every call has, apart from a few mentions outside the Bible, been forgotten by history. He was not a “spiritual giant” like Paul, or Peter, or John. In fact, the service to the Lord of most of the disciples in New Testament times has been forgotten. And down through the centuries, though there has been a rich tradition of spiritual giants like Spurgeon, Carey, C.S. Lewis, and others, the vast majority of the Lord’s servants have been forgotten.

If you know Jesus as Lord and Savior, consider the men and women God has used to reach you. You have heard the Gospel from someone who has heard it from someone who has heard it from someone, and so on down through a long line of mostly forgotten servants of Christ. For the most part, the Lord has not used spiritual giants to reach you with the Gospel, but forgotten servants. Or perhaps you did come to faith in Jesus through the ministry of a spiritual giant, through a Billy Graham crusade for example. Yet even in the “spiritual ancestry” of Billy Graham are a lot of unknown and forgotten Christians. Or maybe you came to faith through reading the Bible, with no one to help you at all. Yet how many forgotten and unknown scribes can we thank for preserving the Word of God for us. God has used hundreds, if not thousands, of unknown servants to make the Gospel known to you. We can be grateful to God that they did not stay out of the ring just because they were not spiritual giants.

We may be less like Paul and more like Matthias, likely to head into obscurity in just a few generations. But there are two things to note:

  1. God’s impact through you may grow long after you are forgotten. Because you have responded to God’s call on your life, people may be influenced by people who have been influenced by people who have been influenced by someone you have influenced. God may reach people for many generations to come because you got into the ring.
  2. You may be forgotten by history, but you will not be forgotten by God. You may not make it into the history books, but as a follower of Christ you will have your name in the God’s “Book of Life.

Most of God’s servants throughout history have been forgotten. But God has accomplished amazing things through forgotten people. You may feel that your contribution and participation in God’s Kingdom work is meager, even forgettable, but don’t stay out of the ring just because you are not a spiritual giant. Get into the ring with your words. Get into the ring with your actions. Get into the ring with your presence. Get into the ring with your time, talents, and treasures. Get into the ring with your prayers. The Lord is already there waiting for you.


May 17, 2015

Wherever You Serve God, Be All In

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
Romans 12:11

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might…
Ecclesiastes 9:10a

Today we pay a return visit to Done With Religion by Michael Donohoe. To read this at source, click the title below.

What’s Your Passion?

My wife and I have some friends who are very much involved and active in certain areas of ministry. We were recently talking about the passion these friends have for their particular ministry.

That got me to thinking about passion. The dictionary says passion is: ‘a strong or extravagant fondness, enthusiasm, or desire for anything’. This certainly describes our friends and we are happy that they are involved so much.

We both stated that we felt we did not have a passion like this for any particular thing. It actually made us feel a little disappointed and wondered why we did not seem to have a passion like our friends.

I think passion is great. In some ways, passion for the wrong things or done in extremes can be very tiring and frustrating. A passion for money can cause a person to work many hours, consuming their energy. Passion like that can take your strength and drain you of all energy. Yet, people who have passion for showing God’s love, helping others and use it in moderation see their lives enriched, strengthened and seem to have endless energy.

The only trouble I see with passion is that it can sometimes become an obsession with the ones involved, and they can begin to expect everyone to have the same passion they have for the same thing. This is where we have to realize that God designed each of us with different gifts, abilities and passions, and they are displayed differently in each of us.

I think each of us has a passion for what God designed us to be. We may not be as outspoken or even act the same way as others with passion, but God works through us in a way that is effective according to the personality and gifts with which he designed us. We may not even realize the passion that shows through us to others, but rest assured, God will work through us to touch others with his love.

We are all designed differently, and we all act and respond in our uniqueness. I think it wrong to think we are not useful to God because we do not act like someone else. God works in us and through us based on the way he created us, each unique temples of the Holy Spirit, each making an impact on those we have contact with, through the power and love of God within us.

March 22, 2015

Something You Cannot Control Happens When You Serve

Christian Service

This excerpt from Brandon Hatmaker’s book Barefoot comes to us via the Pastor-to-Pastor newsletter from FaithGateway.com. Click the image to learn more about the book.

Barefoot ChurchDiscipleship: Giving to the Poor Is Not About Money

Jesus was once asked point blank what we need to do to inherit eternal life; He was asked by someone who already knew all the rules.

His response? Give to the poor.

We know the law, yet this is probably the most obvious discipleship tool we miss.

“You know the commandments: “You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother. All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” – Luke 18:20 – 22

I assure you, this wasn’t about the cash. Jesus didn’t need this man’s money to help the poor. This man needed to help the poor himself. There is so much wrapped in what happens when we do. We are confronted at the very soul of our existence. This wasn’t the first time Jesus encouraged this discipline for making disciples, and it wasn’t his last time either.

But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. – Luke 14:13 – 14

In a moment, Zacchaeus discerned what Jesus required of him:

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.” – Luke 19:8 – 9

Paul labeled Tabitha a disciple. Here are the marks of her discipleship:

In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha . . . she was always doing good and helping the poor. – Acts 9:36

The angel who came to Cornelius, the first Gentile convert reported in Scripture, claimed that the very reason he was there was because God not only heard his prayers, but remembered his service to the poor:

Cornelius answered: ‘Three days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor.’” – Acts 10:30 – 31

The apostles, pioneers of the New Testament church, knew that if they did anything of value, they should continue to serve the poor:

James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along. – Galatians 2:9 –10

Believing is not just a matter of knowing.

“Believing is also a matter of doing. Believing is trusting that Jesus’ way of living is the right way, and trusting it enough that one is willing to live that way — and die that way.” – Darrel Gruder

We’ve been talking about the elements of discipleship ad nauseum. Bible study, surrender, the Holy Spirit, giving back — no one would disagree with these marks of a disciple — but most people never transfer these practices from the church campus to an actual life. According to our role model, Jesus, surrender meant death in every possible way: materially, relationally, and physically. Surrender until there was nothing left but redemption for a broken world. The Holy Spirit is a blazing fire, charring every remnant of selfishness and pride left in our souls, an unquenchable fire that cannot be ignored or denied. Giving back means giving all; any inferior definition is pure deception. Our money, our resources, our gifts, our time, our dreams, our selfish ambitions, our comfort — these we give back in their entirety. Anything less is not discipleship at all. It is simply a clever substitution by a crafty enemy who has figured out how to use our own weaknesses against us, rocking us to complacent sleep with a consumer version of the gospel and knowing all the while he is making goats out of sheep.

Tangible Transformation

Earlier today I sat down to start this chapter on how social action impacts discipleship when I was interrupted by a call from my wife. She said seven words, “Brandon. Come home. We got our referral!” Then she hung up.

Nearly a year ago we started the long journey of international adoption. After spending some time in Africa with The Eden Reforestation Projects and falling in love with the children of Ethiopia, our hearts were affirmed that that’s where we were to adopt. Jen handled the whirlwind of paperwork like a pro. It’s like applying for twenty mortgages at the same time. Quite a process: family history, addresses, references, financial reports, physicals (even the dog), fingerprints, and home studies. We submitted our dossier and made the payments, thanks to some incredible friends and supporters. And we waited. I tried my best not to think about it too often, hoping the time would pass. Jen’s strategy was a little different; adoption blogs, Facebook groups, email chains, and the adoption agency website were a daily obsession for her.

Today we were given the names, faces, and heartbreaking stories of a beautiful little five-year-old girl and seven-year-old boy we were going to adopt. There are experiences in life that simply change us. Some are good. Some are tragic. But they change who we are and what we’re about from that point forward. While we’ve yet to realize the full impact adoption will have on us, this is certainly one of those experiences for us. Life will never be the same. Following Christ should change our lives. We should not be the same. Discipleship should be transforming. Yet when we think about our spiritual development, it’s easier to see a change in our practices than in our passions. We continue to add things and replace things, yet our hearts remain the same. We seem to think discipleship is an agreement to knowledge instead of a commitment to a gospel that makes all things new.

I share my story because I want you to know that my hope is completely different today from where it was a handful of years ago. I’ve seen the same in others. While I know I have a ways to go, I can honestly say that the way I think is different. The way I feel is different. The way I love is simply different. My faith journey is now a joy. My church experience is life giving. And for the first time, I actually do life with the people I’m in biblical community with.

Most of us change over the years.

Yet few can look back and identify supernatural God-level transformation and link it to a clear and concise discipleship process.

When we add serving the least into the mix of our passion for God’s Word, worship, and community, we take something already great and make it better. We seem to think discipleship is an agreement to knowledge instead of a commitment to a gospel that makes all things new.

I received an email the other day from one of the founding members of our church. His story is simple: an extremely successful businessman who’s done just about everything in life and has been radically changed by serving the least. He writes:

Brandon,

Just wanted to put words to what’s been going on in my life over the last few years and share it with you. You know that each time we do the homeless grill-out downtown, my post is at the front of the line handing out the tickets. I love it because I get to talk to everyone we serve.

In case you didn’t know, they call me “ticket-man.” They have called me that for a few years now. A few years of my own metamorphosis from “dude too busy to notice suffering” or “dude too quick to judge who deserves help” to “ticketman.” I hand out tickets so that we make sure we have enough hamburgers for everyone in line. I am no longer “dude who flies first-class to Sydney” or “dude having a drink at the top of the JW Marriott in Hong Kong”; just “ticket-man.” Those who were my age would remember David Byrne chopping lettuce on his arm to “Once in a Lifetime” singing, “You may ask yourself, ‘Well, how did I get here?’ ”

That was me last week on a stinking hot Austin summer day, hugging a homeless guy I did not know wondering, “Well, how did I get here?” Something happens when you serve. Something you cannot control.

You start with all sorts of obstacles, fear, incompetence, and even a desire to avoid the hopelessness that occurs when you realize that you do not have the power within you to fix people.

Something changes and you stop seeing people and you see a person. Maybe even for a fleeting second you see a person through God’s eyes. And you see their heart and they see yours. And you see them see your heart and that is when you get it. Serving was never about them. Serving is about getting gripped in the heart by God. And he touches your heart through the ones you serve. I am not who I was. And it has nothing to do with anything I did. It is the heart connection to individuals as you serve with no agenda other than telling them, “I see you, you are a person and I accept you for who you are in this moment.” I am ticket-man, and serving has been transformational for me.

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