Archive for July 2013

What Could You Do If Nothing Else Mattered?

I had worked for a denominational publisher for many years. The work was challenging, and the Lord was blessing it.

But in my worst moments, I saw the denomination as a big machine that was more concerned with itself than it was with the massive world outside. And I saw myself as a mechanic that spent my life just servicing the machine, keeping it running. I didn’t feel I was doing all I should do or wanted to do or needed to do in the human world in which I lived.

The more meaningful and satisfying my own relationship with Christ became on a moment-by-moment basis, the more I realized that Christ could bring a perfectly satisfying life to absolutely everyone around me. Age didn’t matter. Intelligence and educational level didn’t matter. Personality didn’t matter. Culture, financial status, none of that mattered. Christ could be personally, completely fulfilling to each and every individual around me.

I would go out in public, to shopping malls, sporting events, and craft shows, and realize that Christ could bring peace and meaning to absolutely everyone there. Yet I had no way to tell them, and I was repeatedly frustrated.

Then one Saturday in February, 1995, my wife, Gloria, and I went shopping on Metcalf, a main thoroughfare in Johnson County, Kansas, one of the wealthier areas in the Kansas City metro. I left her at a home decorating show. It was crammed wall-to-wall, elbow-to-elbow with people shopping for nothing but ways to make their homes more pleasing.

As I drove out, I passed a huge store on the right—nothing but sporting goods; people seeking leisure for the physical body.

On the left was an electronics super-store; nothing but electronic entertainment.

I drove north to a large bookstore, overflowing with people looking for intellectual stimulation.

And the road in-between was crowded with people as well, all looking, all shopping, all willing to spend their living for things to make their lives better. The frustration returned, but on this day, something happened.

I’ve never heard God speak audibly. Usually He speaks to me through impressions on my mind and heart. But on this occasion, as I pulled into a parking lot, it seemed like God was speaking to me in my mind, using these very words: “What could you do if nothing else mattered?”

That question stopped me short. I didn’t know the answer. Still, I felt that because God asked the question, He was getting ready to do something. A seed of anticipation was planted.

More next time.

God’s Gift-Wrapping

Have you ever noticed? Throughout the Bible, God’s greatest gifts come wrapped in disappointment and delay. Over and over again, His mightiest, most wonderful works are birthed with suffering and waiting.

Abraham was nearing 100 years of age before his long-promised son was born.

The Exodus was preceded by 400 years of slavery.

The birth of Christ came after centuries of seeming silence from God.

Jesus’ resurrection was preceded by His suffering, death, and three days in the tomb.

Revelation teaches that His return will come only after severe suffering and the apparent triumph of evil.

The Scriptures provide endless examples. God’s saints throughout the ages have testified to the same truth.

Let us not become weary in doing good,
for at the proper time we will reap a harvest
if we do not give up.
(Galatians 6:9, NIV)

Listen…and sing if you want:
Hymn: By Faith
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

Embracing Our Ignorance

I treasure God’s Word and have spent much of my life reading and studying it. Thus I have strong opinions on some theological issues.

At one point I had just finished studying an important section of scripture and came away with the conviction, more powerful than ever, that those who disagreed with me on the interpretation of that scripture were wrong, and dangerously wrong. I prayed and asked God what He wanted me to do about their “serious error”. He told me, “Do what I trained you to do: write a clear and practical hymn based on that passage.” I did, and when finished, I felt good about the hymn and the accuracy of its message.

But as I looked at the completed hymn, I realized that it was just as acceptable and meaningful to my “theological opponents” as it was to me.

Perhaps that was because hymns are best when they are heartfelt and life-centered. And while believers often disagree about theology on a theoretical level, they rarely disagree about the way we all should live and long to live. For the most part, we are one in that living faith.

I’ve often experienced a strange silence from God about theological positions I consider erroneous. I’ve sensed that somehow, He was more tolerant than I. I kept expecting Him to send me out against the misguided with my sword drawn. He never has.

God gradually helped me realize that He hadn’t called me to straighten out all that is false in the world and in His Church. He has called me to lift up Jesus Christ so that all may find the truth in Him.

Let’s face it. Ignorance is something we all have in common. We are small, short-lived, often self-centered creatures. We are tiny specks in a sea of time, space, and spiritual reality. Our ignorance, at least in this life, is inherent and inescapable. If God couldn’t put up with our ignorance, He would have nothing to do with us.

I pray that God keeps me conscious of my own ignorance and patient with everyone else’s. At the same time, I want my life to boldly, unfailingly proclaim the beautiful, living truth that is in Jesus Christ alone.

Working as a Member of His Body

Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (Romans 12:3-5, NIV)

As I focus on the ministry God has given me, I tend to get self-centered in my thinking. I forget that my ministry is actually our ministry. 

You’ll find this true no matter what your area of Christian service. For me, it’s publishing. God has called me to communicate His truth through the written and recorded word. And publishing is definitely a team effort. It involves a wide range of people: writers, arrangers, producers, performers; product developers, editors, managers; artists, computer operators, printers, packers; promotions, marketing, and sales people. If any one of these does less than his or her best, the whole ministry is weakened. 

This can sometimes bring a feeling of frustration and helplessness. But the fact is, God designed the Body this way. Whatever our task, whatever need we are addressing, it is bigger than any of us could ever handle alone. To meet that need, we must work together. We must hold each other up. In His wisdom and love, God has made us dependent, not only on Himself, but on one another. 

God is patiently teaching me to work as a member of His Body. He has already shown me several lessons. 

First, I need to think of each task as a team effort, not as a one-person show. That changes my mind-set as I approach the work. What can I do to help the team? How can I help the others be at their best?

Second, I need to think of others as team members and treat them that way. Even in Christian ministry, it’s easy to think of fellow workers as obstacles, adversaries, or competitors. But such a spirit only betrays our self-centeredness. The truth is, we can only succeed as those with whom we work succeed.

And that leads to point three. An important part of my investment in any project is praying for the others involved. I’m learning this more and more. Such prayer fills several important functions:

1.       By praying, I reach beyond myself and acknowledge that this is God’s project, from beginning to end. As I prayerfully depend on others, I am depending on Him.

2.       Praying for team members helps them be more productive. It is exciting to pray for fellow workers, then watch the miracle of God working through them.

3.       Prayer keeps my attitude right toward my fellow workers. Prayer draws me to them and helps me love them as people. It strengthens my sense of our unity in God. As I pray for my fellow workers, I begin to see myself, not as the center of my field of ministry, but as a small part of a broad and wonderful whole–as broad and as wonderful as God himself.

Whatever your ministry, begin to think, work, and pray as a member of the team–the team that God himself assembled to accomplish that work. When you work as a member of Christ’s Body, You are working in Him. And for the servant of God, there is no higher goal.

Your Holy Temple

I will be careful to lead a blameless life…
I will walk in my house
with blameless heart.
I will set before my eyes
no vile thing…
I will have nothing to do with evil.
(Psalm 101:2-4, NIV)

Do you not know that your body is
a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you,
whom you have received from God?
You are not your own;
you were bought at a price.
Therefore honor God with your body.
(1 Corinthians 6:19-20, NIV)

Father,
I cherish Your holy presence
always with me,
always in me, and
always enveloping me.

Help me never to entertain thoughts
that are offensive to You
or say words that are unloving
or take actions unworthy of the name of Christ.

By Your Holy Spirit,
by simple faith,
keep my heart, mind, and life pure,
fit for your use.

If a man cleanses himself…
he will be an instrument for noble purposes,
made holy, useful to the Master and
prepared to do any good work.
(2 Timothy 2:21, NIV)

Listen…and sing if you want:
Hymn: Prayer for Purity
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

Ambition

None of us lives to himself alone and
none of us dies to himself alone.
If we live, we live to the Lord; and
if we die, we die to the Lord.
So, whether we live or die,
we belong to the Lord.
(Romans 14:7-8, NIV)

Lord, even as Your servant,
my ambitions are more ego-centered than I like to admit.
I catch myself developing a personal agenda without even realizing it.
When that agenda is fulfilled, I’m happy.
When it is not, I get discouraged.

Wash away all my personal ambitions, Lord.
In the long run, they are only satisfying
to the extent that they truly serve Your purposes.
When they don’t, they prove disappointing.
Even their fulfillment is empty and
mocks my shallowness.

And, Lord, serving my ego is such a terrible burden.

Instead, give me a growing love for Your people, and
let that be the driving force of my life.
Is there anything You desire more than to bless Your people and
to draw them to yourself?
Then let that desire compel me, Lord.
Give me Your heart as I think and dream and work.

How can I help and bless Your children?
Make that my ambition and my joy.

Each of Us Is a Gift of Grace

To each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. . . . It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:7, 11-13, NIV)

Read the following passage about God’s judgment on His disobedient people, and imagine yourself living through this situation:

See now, the Lord, the Lord Almighty, is about to take from Jerusalem and Judah both supply and support . . . the hero and warrior, the judge and prophet, the soothsayer and elder, the captain of fifty and man of rank, the counselor, skilled craftsman and clever enchanter. I will make boys their officials; mere children will govern them. People will oppress each other–man against man, neighbor against neighbor. The young will rise up against the old, the base against the honorable. (Isaiah 3:1-5, NIV)

Imagine any society with all its skilled people taken away: no leaders, no teachers, no doctors or dentists, no repair people or builders, no police officers or soldiers, no writers or performers, no cooks or crafts people or specialists of any kind.

Imagine a church with all its skills and talents gone.

That makes us realize how dependent we are on such gifts from God. It helps us see His grace reaching out through society, providing for our every need while drawing us together as a people. God is our complete support. We are totally dependent on Him for everything.

What do you have that you did not receive? (1 Corinthians 4:7, NIV)

But He has also made us dependent on each other. The gifts that you have been given–material goods, abilities, or even inclinations–are not gifts to you but are God’s gifts to His people through you.

In Ephesians chapters 1 and 2, we hear about God’s great grace poured out through Jesus. In chapter 3 Paul talks about himself as a vessel of God’s grace. But here in Ephesians 4 he says that God pours out His goodness and love through each of us. He is pouring out His provision through you. He has entrusted a portion of His grace to you.

You are part of a beautiful pattern, like the waterways of the earth or the blood vessels of the body, bringing God’s life to every corner of our world, meeting every human need. And He is using human hands. He is using your hands!

Praise to our all-wise God for His goodness! Praise Him for teaching us the blessings of unity!

A Better Life Is Waiting

We all have hopes that drive us, things we look forward to. Some are long-term: a better house, a better job, a better life for us and for our families. Some are short-term and daily: more time off, less demands on our energies, more leisure.

But as time goes by, God keeps reminding me of one key fact. Through good times and bad times, successes and failures, no matter what happens or doesn’t happen, only one thing will make life happier. Only one thing will make it more meaningful, more peaceful, and more satisfying–all I want it to be. That one thing is not a job, a house, money, or more time off. Our only lasting happiness will always be this: enjoying God’s presence right now, in the present moment. In this life and through all eternity, our only true joy will be knowing Him.

Because of this, each of us has a better life awaiting us. It doesn’t matter where you are in your journey–whether you’re seeking God or you’re a new Christian or a mature believer. You have a better life awaiting you through a closer, more constant relationship with Jesus Christ.

I’m learning that such a closer, more constant relationship comes primarily through prayer. It comes through spending more of life turned toward God. Just as with marriage, communication is key to enjoying a closer relationship.

Perhaps nothing generates more fear, guilt, and uneasiness among people than the subject of prayer. We know we should pray more, but we’re not sure how. It seems so fuzzy, scary, and difficult.

But let me assure you: we were made for God. Talking to Him is simple and natural. Your educational level, your culture, your financial status, your personality–none of that matters. We were all made for God. You can talk to Him and have a close, personal, satisfying relationship with Him.

You have no reason to be afraid. God, your Father, only gives good gifts. All He ever asks of us is to trust Him one step at a time. And that first step is to turn to Him now.

Listen…and sing if you want:
Hymn: Our Father in Heaven
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

Doubting Your Call

Some of us, though not all, know that we are called of God to a specific type of ministry. At some point we became unmistakably aware that He was asking us to follow Him into that work.

But over the years, have you ever come to doubt that call? The witness of scripture and the experience of many testify that following God’s call is not easy. Struggles, failures, frustrations, and financial pressures may drag on for years. Some friends and family don’t understand. Those closest to you are forced to share your hardship, and that increases the strain. You get weary of feeling out of step and swimming upstream. At some point you begin to fear that your call was nothing but a personal delusion. You suspect that it came from your own mind or heart, not from God.

How do you respond to such doubts? Here are some things that have helped me.

1.       Realize that long-term struggle and suffering are common to all God’s servants. You are not alone! The Bible teaches that patient endurance is one of the most precious Christ-like virtues, and it can only be acquired one way: by having to patiently endure. When the difficulty absolutely MUST stop but doesn’t, patiently endure!

2.       Realize that you will never graduate from God’s school of dependence. You might as well get comfortable there.

3.       Remember! Intentionally call to mind your past experiences with God, His leading, His providing, and His faithfulness. The Psalms consistently remind us that when we can’t see or feel God’s deliverance, we need to remember it from the past and continue trusting it.

4.       Recommit yourself to following God anywhere He leads you. Make yourself completely available to Him. Specifically, focus on following Him day by day, step by step. Our turning points, our “important” decisions, are actually part of the fabric of life. If you are following Him day by day, you’ll be following Him when the crisis points come.

5.       God has given you that specific ministry as your unique opportunity to glorify Him. It’s your best chance to help people know and feel how wonderful He is. Thank Him for your task and treat it as a great privilege, as a personal gift from Him, for that’s exactly what it is!

Apostle

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus.
(Ephesians 1:1, NIV)

An apostle: one sent to represent another,
to speak and act in that one’s interests,
not his or her own.

One appointed
person-to-person,
face-to-face,
like Paul on the road to Damascus.

One called,
not to honor or achievement,
but to obedience and service;
totally dedicated,
totally absorbed in the task.

One who ignores
personal interests,
opposition,
seeming success,
seeming failure.

One who remembers the One who
called,
appointed, and
empowered him.

Jesus Christ,
examine me,
search my thoughts,
refocus me on You.
Use me as Your apostle.

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