Monday, January 16, 2017

Led by the Spirit?

“Led by the Spirit.” This concept can be abused, as in using, “I’m not led,” to avoid basic obedience and calls common to all Christians. On the other hand, the concept of being led by the Holy Spirit can also be avoided because people are afraid of the Holy Spirit, are afraid they’ll lose control of their lives, afraid they won’t hear the Holy Spirit, get uncomfortable living by faith and moment by moment, or because someone generally thinks Holy Spirit stuff is for weird churches.

But, being led by the Holy Spirit is an essential part of the Christian’s walk. Acts 16 gives a powerful example of this when Paul, in simple obedience to the Word of God, seeks to go into two different regions and is forbidden by the Spirit, and then led to Macedonia by a vision from God. To me this is the perfect example—knowledge of God’s heart and nature through His Word, and leading by His Spirit to fulfill that Word in the unique way God has prepared each of us for in each moment.

It is so easy to make absolutes from the Bible. Doing so avoids needing to live dependent on God’s moment by moment leading (I’m not talking about truths the Bible states, and I’m not saying there aren’t some moral commands that are absolute and non varying). Here’s a couple of examples, though, of areas we might make “absolute” that I believe God needs to leads in, instead.

Lying: God hates a liar. Yet . . . Exodus 1 tells us that God dealt well with the midwives who lied to Pharaoh to protect the Hebrew babies. And Rahab lied to protect the spies, and in Hebrews 11's “Hall of Fame” of faith she is praised for that. And you have to believe God blessed people who lied to hide Jews from the Nazis, and who deceive to smuggle Bibles into persecuted countries.

Surrendering Our Rights: Christ modeled that before man. He did not hold on to His rights as God, but gave them up to come and die for us to bring us to Him—and we are told in Philippians, in this context, to have that mind in us which was in Christ. Jesus washed the disciples feet when He had every right to have them wash His—and He told us a servant is not greater than His master and to do likewise. Our culture says, “You earned it, you deserve it, you are right, everyone else gets to do it,” and yet David, by holding on to his rights and what felt he was “entitled to” from Nabal almost committed grievous sin (1 Samuel 25). When we hold on to our rights and to what we are owed we model ourselves and not Christ. Christ says, “I am right, and I deserve it, and I earned it . . . but I don’t assert that, and I don’t force it, and in love I lay it down that you might know the Father and live.” And yet . . . before we make this a blanket rule, this idea of submitting and of surrendering our rights can be, and has been, taken to extremes in some marriages and cults and even some churches. It is used as a club to abuse others and break them into nothing, to wound, and even to cause people to violate God’s laws. I believe there are times when God will tell us not to submit, not to compromise, to stop and stand—but it is the Holy Spirit that must lead us in and through those times. We can’t make a blanket rule. In some cases God has rescued people from death, and in other cases He’s led them to share in His sufferings and die a martyr’s death.

I am finding tremendously this need for the Holy Spirit’s leading in my personal life in the area of abortion (actually, in every area, but this is one at the forefront right now in my heart). There are so many “formulas” for what is right out there, and so many people who feel their formula is the “right” way to fight this, to the point of bitter infighting and accusing toward one another within the ranks of people who sincerely believe abortion is wrong.

There is no denying that abortion is murder of Holocaust proportions that our nation has legally, and wrongfully, condoned. But what is each of our roles in it? I have friends that I deeply admire and love who are very active in street ministry, standing at the last moment of hope outside clinics. I can’t express the honor I hold them in, nor how God has used them to teach and grow and challenge me. I ask the question of myself, am I supposed to be there with them? From reading some posts and web sites (I've not felt this from my friends) I’d come away feeling that I was a failure, a hypocrite and even an evil pastor if I am not there on the curb. Some generalized posts and places on the web lead you to think that every pastor (or church) in the nation that is not on the curb is some evil person (or “religious” group of Pharisees) leading people into apathy and blindness. But what about pastors and leaders and others who are faithfully, and led by God, pouring into the people God has given them influence with, raising up disciples, multiplying the fruit?

In the military I was in a rapid deployment, front-line combat-ready unit. I was a recon (Scout) platoon leader, operating ahead of the front lines. But we’d have been of no effect were it not for all the unseen and unnamed people making our weapons, keeping our radios working, getting us fuel and food, etc. Any victory on our end was equally theirs. In football terms, since the Superbowl is approaching, whatever team wins will have the players all up there cheering and holding a trophy, but what about all the managers, trainers, scouts, financiers, etc.? That victory is theirs as well.

In the past in our youth group there were some girls who had babies out of wedlock. I am saddened at their choices to not remain pure until marriage . . . but then I think, “But they kept the baby!” Did Mary Ann and I have a role in that? How many people have we taught who maybe were a voice for the unborn around a dinner table, or in a workplace? How many people have we taught who maybe chose abstinence until marriage and never were put in the place of an abortion? How many babies were spared because someone never went to a clinic, or needed to? And how far has that fruit reached? People we taught who maybe taught others? We don’t know. How many babies were spared by the dollars our fellowship gave to help a local crisis pregnancy center buy an ultrasound? We don't know. We have people in our fellowship who have never stood on a curb but have poured themselves into the younger generations’s lives, loved and led them into a place of knowing God, and deeply affected the course of those youth’s lives. How many abortions were never even needed because of the impact they had? Are not those babies saved, too?

What is each of our roles in this issue? I believe God must lead us, and I believe we must be careful to not judge others in it. Is the person on the curb more valuable than the person faithfully teaching as God calls them—whose instruction maybe avoided people even going to a clinic? I don’t believe they are. Is the person faithfully teaching adults, or youth, or a neighbor or family member more valuable than the person on the curb? I don’t believe they are. I believe the questions for each of us (in this issue and any other) are:

1. What is Holy Spirit leading us to do in this moment?
2. Are we doing it unto God, for His glory, poured out with all we have?

As I’ve wrestled with this issue Mary Ann has reminded me, “If it is coming with guilt, then it probably isn’t from God. If it is coming with conviction, then it very well could be.” For me, in each moment, I need to ask, “Am I following God’s leading, or avoiding what I know He is leading me to do and be?” In the end that is what matters for me, and what I will be accountable for.

I do believe that many of us, myself included, abdicate (or aren’t even willing to hear) God’s call to them to do something (be it abortion, evangelism, helping the outcast, teaching others, speaking up, whatever). Often what God calls us to is uncomfortable and we might “buy” a clean conscience by just donating some money, or justify something away by saying “God hasn’t called me” because we are, truthfully, only willing to hear an audible voice combined with a written letter delivered personally by Gabriel (I have been guilty of this and my relationship with my friends has helped me see this).

I do believe that, as a whole, the church (the body of professing believers) in America is apathetic and asleep and neglectful regarding many matters near and dear to God's heart, and will have a lot to answer to God for. But here’s the thing, and it will really only matter to us if we truly want what God wants more than what we want. The thing is, if God is calling me to be on the curb any given day and I’m not, then I am wrong. But if He’s calling me to teach, and I’m on the curb for any reason than His leading, I’m not where I’m supposed to be either. This is really the crux of the truth in any issue we face. What is God leading and asking of us, and are we doing unto His glory, with all that we have, poured out? We are all a part of His army, and we all have different roles. And we only operate fully as a body when each member is doing his or her given part. I recognize that this will be used by some as a way to simply avoid uncomfortable places (and I will probably be guilty of this in the future as well), but they are not fooling God and that is something they will have to work out with God. I believe if they truly want to know what God wants He’ll convict and lead them. And if they don’t really want to know what God wants then the issue is far bigger than where are they supposed to be that day.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Inconvenient

How many things happen that are inconvenient to you, and maybe irritate you or steal your smile?

We love the times we find the perfect parking place, the store has just what we want in stock, people are on time, there's no line at the checkout, traffic flows smoothly, etc.—but how quickly the times that those things don't happen can get under our skin!

I was curled up and reading a book about Christmas recently, and the way the author worded something made me really think. How inconvenient it was for Joseph—already having his marriage and life plans thrown awry and having to wrap himself around the idea that his fiance was pregnant by God, and already having to travel with his pregnant wife (imagine if everyone in your state had to return to their place of birth at the same time!)—only to finally get where he was going with his wife showing signs of labor and then to find out there was no room at the inn!

But here's the crazy part about that too full inn . . .

. . . God, who plans the most minute details of a plant, who knows every hair on our head, who designs the intricacies of a cell and the unfathomable scope and beauty of a galaxy, had been planning that Christmas moment for over 4,000 thousands of years—likely for all of time as we know it!

Ephesians tells us that the cross was planned from before the foundation of the earth. Adam and Eve's sin didn't catch God by surprise, and the cross wasn't "Plan B." Then, from the Fall onward, Scripture is filled with prophetic details accurately giving us future glimpses of the birth of Jesus centuries before it ever took place—Bethlehem (which also means the census to get Mary there), a virgin, a name—Immanuel—and so on. And the New Testament, referring to Christ's birth, calls it "the fullness of time," which to me tells me all of time prior pointed to, focused on, and awaited that fulfilling moment of Christ's birth.

And yet, the inn was full! And a food trough for animals was the only available crib! Wow!

How could God have not known about, or overlooked, that significantly inconvenient moment?!

The thing is, there is really no legitimate way I can see to realize that the focus of the Creator had been on that moment for thousands of years, with every detail foretold, and to then not believe that He knew the inn would be full, and that a manger would be the only resting place available. Which means . . . that Joseph and Mary's "inconvenience" was a part of God's greatest plan.

And so, I need to look at the irritating "inconveniences" in my life and see what God is doing in them, because they surely don't catch God by surprise. Maybe in the next aisle or checkstand over there is a divine appointment—a person needing Christ's love. Maybe in the delay there is a divine appointment coming that wouldn't otherwise, or maybe I am being shielded from something, or it is bringing my life into contact with another's that otherwise wouldn't have happened. After all, would the shepherds have even been able (or comfortable) visiting the baby if He was in a small hotel room?

Never forget, when there are "inconveniences" in your life, that the inn was full—and that it didn't catch God by surprise.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Make it All About You!

This Christmas I want to encourage you to make it all about you!

I know. That isn't what you'd expect someone—especially a pastor!—to encourage you. I'll explain.

Christmas is often a time of being around family, friends, social gatherings, etc. In any of those environments there are often people that stretch your ability to love and be patient, or whose ways or words wound or challenge or anger you. Often there are people with whom there is a history and things hard to let go of. In this most beautiful of times, often the people we are around can strain us, and the times that should be the most wonderful can become the most ugly.

An account of a time in David's life has become one our family returns to often. It has a lot of bearing on this subject. It is told in 1 Samuel 25 and it involves a time when David sent men to an awful, rich man named Nabal, asking for food. David told his men, "And thus you shall greet him: ‘Peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have. I hear that you have shearers. Now your shepherds have been with us, and we did them no harm, and they missed nothing all the time they were in Carmel. Ask your young men, and they will tell you. Therefore let my young men find favor in your eyes, for we come on a feast day. Please give whatever you have at hand to your servants and to your son David.’” (verses 6–8)

Well . . . Nabal is Nabal, and he basically mocks David and sends the men away with nothing and David responds by telling his men to strap on their swords. David said, “Surely in vain have I guarded all that this fellow has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that belonged to him, and he has returned me evil for good. God do so to the enemies of David and more also, if by morning I leave so much as one male of all who belong to him” (verses 21–22). In David's response his heart is revealed. He did good for Nabal, but he expected something back for it. And when he didn't get something back, he got angry and set off to sin, driven by his response to another man's ugliness and rudeness and ungratefulness—in response to another man's sin. And, this is our challenge—can we keep ourselves free from sin, despite the sins of others that drive us to anger, hurt, feeling walked on, etc.?

And so, I encourage you this Christmas season, if you are put into positions where the people around you make feelings rise in you that aren't Godly—make it all about you! Focus your heart and prayers on being the one who is Godly, regardless of how those around you might be. Fix your eyes on God and yourself, and purpose in your heart that each person's actions will be between them and God—but that their actions won't cause you to sin. Make it about you. Focus on you. Say, "I will love. I will respond with gentleness. I will not sin. Regardless of those around me. I will not let them have the power to cause me to sin. I will not change who I am with Christ in me, because of who they are."

How other people act is up to them, and between them and God. How I act is my responsibility. If I let another person cause me to sin, I have let them have more power over me then God in me has at the time. You and I can't do this on our own—we are weak, fleshly, and sinful without Christ. But with Christ in us, we can do all things. Christ showed us the way. He loved when not loved back. He served when unappreciated. He lived His life in response to God and not man. And He has promised us that in Him there is no temptation too great that there is not provided for us a way out. And to sin in response to another's sin is surely a temptation we all face.

Make it about you! Focus on you and your responses. Love others, but don't give them the power to quench the light of Christ shining out of you. It is Christmas! It is a glorious time of year. It is that time when many who otherwise might have hard and angry hearts find a little softness toward the message of Christ and we can not only tell, but we can show, the good news of great joy that is unto all people! But it begins with showing that Christ in us—our glorious Immanuel Christmas reality!—is greater than the power of the world to change us.

Friday, November 18, 2016

No Erasing

In youth group I've been teaching lately on how the youth define success for their life, how they would want their lives summed up, etc. Last night we looked at things like the parable of the houses built on sand or rock and the idea of Jesus as a cornerstone and foundation. Then I taught on the idea of our lives being like a house we build—how we have decisions like what foundation we will build on, what "materials" we will use to build it, and what our "house" will look like (our image, or His image), etc.

To start that off I gave each of the youth a stubby pencil and a blank piece of paper. I had them envision their dream house, to include location, what it is built out of, and what it looks like. Then I gave them about 10 minutes to sketch it. The requirements were that their sketch had to capture the location, the type of material used, and the general look of it.

There was also one rule, and it turned out to be the most powerful part. The pencils had no erasers and I told them that even if they brought an eraser they couldn't use it. If they made a mistake they had to incorporate it into the drawing—make it something beautiful.

I think this spoke to a lot of us. We can't erase our mistakes, or often the consequences of them. But, given over to God, they can become a part of something beautiful. They become our testimony, a testimony to His power and goodness, a place of learning and growing.

This was powerful to a lot of us, and I felt like God gave me that idea as I was planning, and I wanted to share it with you in case it might bless you, too. Thanks for sharing in my life. God bless you.

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