Monday, November 22, 2010
Yeah, that's no easy question to answer, but it gets easier once you define how you WANT to answer it. That is done by deciding what you want to do with your life; how you want to measure your impact in this world. Are you striving for worldly financial and social success? Or are you endeavoring to permanently impact the lives of those around you? Maybe you have political aspirations? Or have you been simply plodding through life, trying to survive, with no real direction or goal in mind whatsoever? Once you set a goal for your life's work you can begin measuring your success to that end.
In this Western society, even Christ-followers have a difficult task laid out for them, deciphering what it is that we are supposed to be doing with our lives. Our supposedly "Christian" culture is all about the appearance of good will, while still living untransformed lives; striving for carnal desires, making very little if any impact on the world around us. There is so little focus on righteousness and discipleship in most of our churches that even those of us who regularly attend mostly just hear sermons about "being a good person" and "accepting everyone for who they are" with nothing standing in our path, challenging us to become who and what we are destined to be.
If we were to step outside our comfortable pews, open the Word and read...REALLY read it, with an open mind...We would see quite a different picture of who God intends for His people to be. We would be convicted and challenged to set aside worldly pursuits, to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, to be filled with His Spirit, and to indelibly impact those around us. The fruit of our labor would be lives, permanently changed for the better, simply by having spent any time around us. We would be called to die to ourselves and to live only in Christ, and therefore to be only about our Father's work. If the Bible is true, then we have been called to spend time in the Word, in worship and in prayer, perpetually being transformed into new creations in Christ, displaying the Kingdom of God in this world, simply by our thoughts, words, decisions and actions. We are God's Ambassadors, His representatives. Agents and Administrators of the Kingdom of the Most high. Appointees, Delegates, Deputies, Diplomats, Emissaries, Envoys, Intermediaries, Ministers, Officers, Operatives, Proctors, Proxies, Stewards, Surrogates, Viceroys...
We are the People of God, visibly demonstrating His Kingdom and His Purposes on this earth. How does striving to have a big name, to live in a big house with big TVs and big cars even begin to compare? Yeah, it doesn't. Not even a little. God tells us in His Word that in heaven, those who were the least among us on earth shall be the greatest, and the greatest among us shall be the least. In this way, the most humble custodian, serving with his whole heart, in heaven will be greater than the most powerful person here in the world. So what does going into mountains of debt to buy a house and cars to compete with your neighbors really accomplish? Nothing, except a lot of stress and trouble in this world. Don't misunderstand, I'm not opposed to anyone appearing successful in the natural; God desires to greatly bless all of us. But only when these things aren't really of any concern to us, and we are seeking only His Will and Way in our lives. It's the motivation of the heart that matters. Matthew 6:25-34 puts it plainly...
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." (NIV)
So how are we to measure success in this life? How are we to discern our purpose? I believe, when it's all said and done, God tells us in His Word. Quite simply; “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind", and "Love your neighbor as yourself". If we can just accomplish these two things, then I believe in heaven we will be regarded above the Donald Trumps of this world.
Monday, August 2, 2010
Being someone who has done more than their share of falling down, I'm a big believer in this modern proverb. It's a reminder to offer grace to ourselves and to others when we make mistakes, and instead to focus more on how we respond after the fact. We all make mistakes, what we can do is get up, keep moving forward, learn from them and try to ensure they don't get repeated. In doing so, you may find yourself basing your opinions of yourself and others not on whether or not you mess up (because you will), but instead, in how you recover from a mistake and whether you can learn from it. Eventually, when you do mess up, it won't look like falling down, it will be falling down "with style".
Lately I've been finding myself making fewer mistakes.
As I get older, it's less likely that I'll do something stupid. Instead, on the verge of a mistake, I will recognize the issue, step back and think something like; "Oh, that wouldn't have ended well". Then I make a different choice and move on with my life, thankful for the wisdom learned from falling down so many times before. This is part of our 70-some years on this earth. To learn how to walk more gracefully in this life, full of the wisdom that comes with a lifetime of - not just making mistakes - But learning from them. Each and every one of them. Eventually, mistakes can become so rare an occurrence that you almost find yourself thankful for the opportunity to learn. Or so I've been told.
That's how it is for long-term interpersonal relationships like marriage as well.
The more time we spend around a close friend, spouse or even a business partner, the more likely we are to anticipate their needs and potential responses to our actions. In doing so, we find ourselves in a position to better serve the needs of that person, and of the relationship, without having to "fall down", apologize, and rebuild that trust again all the time. In time and with great patience, we become "experts" on that person, real authorities on what makes them tick, and what just ticks them off. We know their pleasure centers, and their hot buttons, and know how to navigate both with great skill. It's not about "control" or "manipulation", it's just about knowing the lay of the land and being able to navigate it properly. It is when we become experts on those around us that they, and we, are best served.
Likewise, that's how it is supposed to be in our relationship with God.
Being a "Christ-follower" isn't simply about attending a weekly service somewhere, tithing our 10% and living however we would like the rest of the time. It's about making the pursuit of a Christ-like life the primary focus of our lives. It's about learning everything there is to know about Jesus and letting Him have His Will and Way in our hearts and lives. It's about giving the King those keys to our kingdoms and letting Him reign on the thrones of our hearts and lives. Just as getting to know ourselves better can make us more graceful people, and getting to know those close to us can make us more graceful in those relationships, Jesus desires for us to let Him make us experts on Him so that we can become the creations we were made to be.
So that's how I believe it is supposed to be in our lives.
Like an excellent guide on a difficult exploration, it isn't in knowing the future that you can avoid most of the pitfalls in this life, but in having lived through them all before and recognizing them when they appear. This is who makes the best mentors, counselors and pastors; those who have already walked these miles and years in your shoes, who have lived to tell about it, and can help you walk through them in victory. This is who we are to be, in all aspects of our lives, experts on ourselves, on those around us, and on our King, so that in so becoming, we can blaze a path for those around us, that they may also find fulfillment is Christ.
Monday, July 19, 2010
It's amazing to see the parallels in people's lives, and in the course of ministries, all over the area, and in fact, all over the world right now. "Behold, I Am doing a New Thing" has been prophesied in several places and seems to be the call of this global move of God. He's calling us into deeper submission for a nearer walk with Him. Perfectly in line with the Divine Experiment and the knitting-together of area congregations, God seems to be wanting to do the same, both in our individual hearts and on a global scale.
Lord, we pray for the clarity that comes from the Light of Your Truth in our lives. Expose anything within us that is not of You, and give us the strength and courage to allow You to remove them. Likewise guard our hearts and lead us away from anything outside ourselves that is not of You. "Here You go" indeed, we offer up our hearts, minds and lives as an offering to You. Be glorified in our hearts, actions and lives...In everything we do, we long to honor only You. In the glorious Name of Your Almighty Son Jesus our Lord and Savior, amen.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
It's all about perspective, my friends.
If there's one area in life where people have the most difficulty, it's deciphering the actions and intentions of others. Have five different people witness the same complex social exchange and ask them what they witnessed. You are bound to get five different interpretations. Why is that? Is it because some of the five have an agenda, or is it simply because they "just see things differently"? Actually, it's more likely because, as people, we have a tendency to view the world through a filter.
You've heard of viewing the world "through rose-colored glasses", meaning that the viewer thinks everything's just fine, refusing to acknowledge the hardships of others? This is a similar concept, except those glasses we're looking through are ourselves. We see life, the world and others through a filter of our own past, our own motives, our own intentions. We use this filter to gauge the intentions of others, to base our conceptions of their actions.
This can cause major issues in dealing effectively with others, in social situations, in business, in all aspects of life. If someone who has (or has had) a very self-centered view of the world sees someone else being very charitable, they inevitably assume ulterior motives. Likewise, someone who is a bit naive and who has a caring disposition views someone mistreating another, they may tend to assume there was some very good reason for things to go that way.
As believers, how are we to view the world and interpret the actions of others? Isn't this just how God made us, as people? Shouldn't we interpret the motives of others through the process we already use? I tell you, NO. As new creations in Christ, we are no longer to operate in the flesh and in our own devices, but we are to filter everything we think and do and say through Christ, revealed in the Word. We are to seek His direction in all things, and not to lean on our own understanding...In anything, ever. No matter how good the path of the flesh looks to us at that moment and in that situation.
So, what does that really mean, in everyday life? In its simplest terms, it means that we do not assume. Ever. If we have a history of selfishness and idolatry, we cannot use that history to discern the motives of others. If we did, we would only ever see the worst in others, always assuming the worst, and life would be a real mess for ourselves and anyone unlucky enough to be around us. Someone genuinely being kind to another would to us look like they were out to get something for themselves.
If we are young and naive, we cannot always use our simple kindness to discern why people behave the way they do. If we did, we would never see the evil of others operating purely in the flesh, and we and those around us would be open to attack. Someone horribly mistreating us and others would be assumed to be in the right, and the enemy would be allowed to operate freely in our midst.
In Christ, there is balance. Matt 10:16b "Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves." We are to forgo our own interpretations and instead discern all things in Christ through the Word. Only then, when we can really hear from God on all things, can we be sure to understand what is going on around us and why people are doing and saying the things they are. Until then we should be careful not to judge, and instead temper all things with caution, following Christ's example. If you have a question, ask. If you have a problem, address it with the other person. In this way, we can be protected from attacks of the enemy that come in the form of misunderstanding, causing division.
That's what Matthew 18 is all about; protecting ourselves and others from this kind of attack by testing all things and always bringing all issues to the transparency of the Light of the Truth.
"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector." Matthew 18:15-17 NIV
If we follow God's pattern on this, we can rest assured that, if there are issues, we have made every effort to handle them in a Biblical fashion. Hopefully they will be easily resolved as misunderstandings in this way. If not, at least we know we did all that we can, and did not judge in the flesh and in secret. In this way, we know it was not our own, possibly distorted perspective that may have caused an issue (or inflated a small issue into a much larger one), but all things were tested according to the Word and with the testimony of witnesses.
This is the only perspective we should seek to attain; that of Christ in all things. Anything less is worthless flesh and will ultimately only lead to destruction. Our own, and potentially that of others who we've led astray by operating in the flesh in the first place.
Until next time...
Sunday, June 6, 2010
So I said "yeah, you are like a tree...We all are", and this of course sparked an interesting evening of conversation regarding the nature of this concept, what kinds of tree different people are (my friend is a cherry tree; kind of short, beautiful, very fruitful, flowering and somewhat fruity - in a good way). It's funny this all came up, as I haven't known this person very long, but for whatever reason had a pretty good sense of her personality (and what kind of tree she was) the first day we met. One of those people you just know you're going to get along well with, right from the start.
The Healing of a Blind Man at Bethsaida
22They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. 23He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man's eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, "Do you see anything?"
24He looked up and said, "I see people; they look like trees walking around."
25Once more Jesus put his hands on the man's eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26Jesus sent him home, saying, "Don't go into the village."
Some people are oak trees; mighty, ancient, deep-rooter, fruitful and producing good wood. Others are willows; beautiful, flexible, good for holding things together, usually near the water (that's a whole other concept) and sometimes melancholy. This isn't some weird pseudo-psychic concept; it's simply using one object to describe another. "Types", as this kind of association is usually called, have been around probably forever.
In the Bible, water is very often used to represent the Spirit, smoke is most often associated with glory, or the prayers of the saints, fire is used to represent many things but it and doves are often used to describe the anointing of the Holy Spirit, particularly when directly associated with people. You get the idea. Even in the secular, dream interpretation very often uses "types" and "lists" to decipher why you might have recurring dreams involving tornadoes or water spouts. Again, this has some Biblical basis, though (as usual) the enemy has used counterfeits of this same concept in the occult. Don't let that discourage you from digging more into associations, just let it be a warning to ensure your source is Biblical.
In my humble opinion, most occult/psychic/paranormal activity or practice is a direct counterfeit of something believers can do through the Holy Spirit. Witch doctors are the worldly counterpart to Spirit-filled believers. The difference is the source and the purpose for the gifting. But, that's a conversation for another day.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
"It is a time where the Lord has brought us to Zero so that he can rebuild us. We will not be able to live like those who have their lives planned out and their storehouse necessarily in place and secure. But we will remain tethered to the Lord for everything. We will live as Jesus, only doing what we see the Father doing and every need will be met. No matter how great or impossible. I believe at this present time we are in a great season of strengthening and prospering. Where God is restoring and establishing us and refreshing those that have walked as Joseph . It is a time where we are somewhat on a sabbatical - enjoying the blessing of God and the flow of His grace. He is opening doors and positioning us at this time and grounding us. He is even giving us the desires of His heart. It is definitely a season of Justice where the Josephs are having restitution being made and the enemy is bound for a season. Not that darkness does not get pesky...but it is unable to prevail in our situations as it has in the past. All this preparation is for our release into ministry and the world like never before as the church goes through unprecedented reformation even greater than that of Luther's time while the world reels as a drunkard. I believe we are on the brink of perilous times but also a great hour for the Church and great Glory given to Jesus the Most High - God of all - King of heaven and earth - Lord of men!"
I repost this because it's so similar to what the Peoria, IL church has been saying regarding our community-wide involvement in "The Divine Experiment". Seems like God is up to something, and it's not only happening here in Peoria.
Friday, February 19, 2010
We've all said it at one time or another...Just when you think you're really getting to know someone pretty well, they up and go and do something that really surprises you. You know the story; your overly cautious friend takes a real leap of faith in something they would have previously labeled as "reckless", your overly reckless friend make a cautious and wise decision, the friend who's always mooching off you and their other friends buys you lunch (even if it was with your money)...One way or another, some personality that you felt you had a pretty good grasp of steps out of the box that you had imagined for them. Sometimes it really makes you take a step back and wonder; "What else was I wrong about?".
Well, why is it then that so many of us are so irrevocably convinced of our own understanding of God?!
"But I pray and read my bible every day", I can hear you saying. Yeah, OK, that's wonderful. But there is a passage in that same bible that tells us;
Now, this brings up a lot of other topics; (people performing miracles after most people believe miracles to have been removed, etc.) but staying on topic, these are people who clearly believed that they were followers of God. If these people were actively doing the things they say they were (and the account does not say otherwise), and yet were not known by Jesus Christ, how much more possible could it be that we, in our largely "middle of the road" (see; lukewarm) Christianity, also do not know God as well as we had once supposed?
How righteous and holy are you? How righteous and holy am I? The bible clearly tells us;
I don't believe for a second that God was kidding, or that He somehow didn't mean what He said...Particularly since - according to my concordance - He felt the need to repeat Himself four times! Of course we cannot live a holy and righteous life by our own strength, but God clearly desires that of us, and what He commands, He also empowers us to do. Something else about God which we may not have clearly understood before.
So, not being the holy people that God desires to empower us to be, why is it we're so certain that we have such a good grasp on His intentions? Even the Israelites were expecting the Messiah to ride in on a white horse and overthrow the Roman Empire, not the baby in a manger which they were given. They had no idea how to respond to Him, so foreign was He to their sense of society and rules, to the point where the same people singing "Hosanna!" as He rode into town were only a week later calling out for the Roman officials over them to crucify Him.
Maybe it's possible we've had God wrong all along. Those of us who see Him as a God of wrath, those of us who have some all-tolerating "hippie" Jesus in mind, those who only see Him as just a stepping stone to heaven (or fire insurance from hell), or just an acquaintance...
No, I believe God is a loving God, but He is a just God. As easily as He has forgiven, He will also one day judge. In the same way as He administers the grace necessary to live that holy and righteous life He expects of us, He will pour out justice on those who do not obey.
The Truth is out there...The Truth is somewhere in-between our overly vengeful and overly tolerant views of God.
The Truth is a man, and His Name is Jesus.
Thursday, February 4, 2010
The tip of our tongues, the touch of our hands, the step of our faith...
For those of you who may follow my very occasional blog posts here, a very brief update.
The company I was with when I made my last post deleted the position I was in due to a lack of business (which was due to a lack of marketing), and the position we were praying about never materialized, as that company shrunk some of their operations instead of expanding as they had hoped. I am currently laid off and actively seeking employment.
Well, here we are, smack-dab in the middle of a 21-day fast, part of "The Divine Experiment" (http://www.thedivineexperiment.com). The leadership of our church (which has undergone a name change and replaced our Youth Pastor with a "Youth Director") and 17 other churches and ministries in the Peoria area are undertaking a 21-day fast (of various types), seeking to repent for the past failings of the church as a whole and to seek the face of Christ. In short, to give the church back to Christ, and to re-consecrate the church to God's purposes. As a family, we struggled a bit with what we supposed to do for the Experiment. We knew we were to be a part of it, but had never done anything quite like this before. In the end, we decided to fast from all forms of "entertainment" (TV, movies, video games, non-Christian and all fiction books and internet, except for study/research purposes), which, as it turns out, is the same fast that the leadership of all the ministries involved felt called to as well. As a footnote, I have been involved with the Healing Rooms ministry for about a year now as well.
I've been as sick as I've ever been in my life this week, with a combination sinus/lung infection and antibiotics that I got on at least a day later than I probably should have. Monday and Tuesday I found myself calling out to God to take my life, as I felt like my teeth and hair were going to pop out of my head like popcorn. I'm no Job, that's for certain. I don't do "sick" very well anyway, and this was absolutely no picnic. I'm feeling better now, but I've still got a long way to go. Going into a time of deep Bible study, prayer and purposeful, focused fasting is most definitely not made any easier by being this sick on top of it all. Hopefully the remaining two weeks of the 21 days will be more fruitful.
I have been having a lot of strange dreams lately, and I've been praying about what is fruitful and what may just be the product of illness, lack of sleep and medication. I've also been feeling a much deeper calling to some of the things I've expressed in this blog before. As a matter of fact, I have contacted our new Youth Director and asked if he would be needing any help with the Youth Ministry. Tomorrow we will be meeting to discuss my helping with the actual Bible Study lessons for the Jr. High age group for the Sunday night Youth meetings. We've helped out with the Youth before, but this would be another step out of my comfort zone from what I've done in the past. I'm hoping it can be a stepping stone into the Ministry I still strongly feel called to. This would mean that I would also be around for the corporate worship and games time, so maybe I could get involved with the worship time as well. Another stepping stone...
As always, since I am once again stepping out and trying to be useful and fruitful, there have been an unusual amount of attacks in our house the last couple of weeks. Without going into unnecessary detail, there isn't a relationship that hasn't been tried or a line left uncrossed in our house lately, and I am leaving it to God in prayer to handle it, except where good parenting must intercede. In the weeks leading up to this 21 days, I was feeling strained to the limit, and just when I sent a note to my pastor stating that I couldn't even remember what the end of my rope looked like from here anymore, a friend's life took on a more distressful turn and I was needed for support. It's amazing to me, how - when we feel like we truly, honestly have nothing left to give - that's when God calls us into the service of our brothers and sisters, and gives us exactly the knowledge we need and the words to say.
So, this 21-day Experiment for me is going to be something of a Metanoia moment...I endeavor to make some sweeping but permanent changes in my life and in the lives of my family. I've already been finding things in my life that never seemed so obviously like stumbling-blocks before, but which are now so easily swept away, deleted and forever removed. If I can use this time to continue sweeping out the corners of my life, but also to reacquaint myself with more regular periods of deep worship, study and commitment to God's purposes, then it will all have been totally worth it.
By the way, that note I sent my pastor...His reply was that we are on the verge of a major breakthrough...And I believe it. When I feel stress and pressure, it's not God's failings that I'm feeling or that put me there, it's my failure to rely fully on Him. So long as this extended fast has the desired result - to help us draw more closely to God - that breakthrough should be assured.
A bit more just "rambling" this time, but I hope it was useful to someone out there.