Monday, July 30, 2012

Many Gifts, One Ministry...

Most of us are blessed with differing gifts and talents. We have also been blessed with different jobs, abilities, etc. Pick any two people and you will have different opinions, likes, and dreams in life. While it is true we all have these differing leanings and we are diverse as diverse can be, if we are followers of Jesus Christ, we have only one ministry: the ministry of reconciliation.

For some reason in His infinite wisdom, God has provided a way of salvation through His Son Jesus Christ. And, in turn, He has entrusted to us the job as His ambassadors to the rest of the world.

"Everything is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ's behalf, 'Be reconciled to God.' He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Corinthians 5:18-21)

So, you may be a plumber or a preacher. You might be a school teacher or a street sweeper. You might be employed or unemployed. You might like vanilla ice cream or chocolate. As co-followers of Jesus, you and I can be and are different in so many ways with the exception of one: We are called to be His ambassadors with the ministry of reconciliation proclaiming, "be reconciled (right) with God", in all that we say or do.

There are things I "do" for a living. There are things I "do" because I enjoy them. There are things I "do" because honestly my mind is in neutral and I "do" them. In the ultimate reality of God's Kingdom, all that I "do" should be about making Him known and leading people to see their status with God and the need to be reconciled to Him now and forever.

Thus, why do I choose to live a life (as best as possible) according to Biblical truths and standards? It is not only for my benefit but also a way to have a chance to say to those watching, "be reconciled to God!"

Why do I choose to care for the poor and needy? It is not only because God commands it and the compassion of Christ that drives me, but it is also an opportunity to speak truth into their lives and say, "be reconciled to God!"

Why do love my wife and children according to Biblical standards and live a lifestyle that our culture may or may not understand? Again, it's all about saying to a world in need of a right relationship to its Creator, "be reconciled to God!"

Whatever we do, we are to do it all to God's glory, to make His glory known and to say to a world so desperately searching for meaning, "be reconciled to God!"

And here's the kicker. We're not doing it on our behalf. We do it and we literally plead on behalf of Christ...

"Be reconciled to God!"

Friday, July 27, 2012

It's All About Giving God His Due Glory...

The Apostle Paul says in his letter to the church at Corinth that whatever we do, we are to do it for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). While this is a simple statement, it has profound implications and a deep truth for our everyday lives.

The reason we are to do everything - period - is ultimately for the glory of God. God has created, sustained and is moving all towards a great consummation of the ages. He and He alone deserves glory. There is no one or nothing else that has been or ever will be that deserves glory like Him.

John Piper says that the reason missions exists is because worship doesn't. To paraphrase, the reason we share our faith and what God has done for us is so that others may see, worship and give God His due glory. Missions exists because people need to know that God and God alone is worthy and rightfully due our honoring of Him, His Name, His will. Consequently, our good deeds exist also so that God will receive His due glory.

So, what is the real reason we help people have food, water, and shelter? To make God's glory known!

Why do we love those in need? To make God's glory known.

Why are we witnesses to what God has done in our lives? Again, to make His glory known.

This is why when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give water to the thirsty, and we do these things in the Name of Jesus, we are making His glory known.

The prophet Isaiah said, "...and if you offer yourself to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted one, then your light will shine in the darkness..." (Isaiah 58:10) And our light will shine for only one purpose: to point others to the glory of God!

It is comforting to note that my life is not just some series of random events. It is also comforting to know that my life is not really about me. That would be pretty small if it were. I (and you) have a higher purpose...

So..."whatever I/you/we do, do everything for the God's glory." 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

For the Foreigner, Fatherless and Widow...

In Deuteronomy chapter 5, after the giving of the ten commandments (which most folks are familiar with), God through Moses gives an exposition of what it means to follow the commandments (chapter 6 and following to the end of the book). He expands the commandments out to practical living and tells Israel what it looks like for them to become His holy, set-apart community. There are rites and rituals, laws and commands, dos and don'ts, etc., given to help them, if they follow, to become the model community He desires for them.

It is interesting to note that these chapters are filled with social issues and responsibility. Not surprisingly they echo the "Shema" (Deuteronomy 6:4-6) where loving the Lord your God with all your heart is paralleled with practically not only following His laws but loving your fellow Israelite. Jesus summed it up when asked the greatest commandment. He said, "Love God and love your neighbor." (Matthew 22:37-40 paraphrased)

So, Deuteronomy 6 and following is a treatise on how to be a holy people set apart by and for God the Father. In short, Israel was to...

* Follow God with all their heart
* Obey his law and be obedient
* Honor God with their resources
* Treat fairly their neighbor

There is obviously much more in these chapters but there is a strange phrase that keeps poking its head up and it is...

"...for the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow."

Loving God requires us to love others as ourselves and as He loves them. Moreover, we cannot miss the fact that God has a special place in His heart for those who are least able to help themselves. The foreigners were aliens, refugees if you will, living among the Israelites who generally had no citizenship, voice or influence. They were pretty much at the mercy of the Hebrews. The fatherless were the orphans who had no family or in some cases, no inheritance and thus no hope. They needed someone to care for them. And the widows were those who were in many cases left alone to fend for them selves and were at the mercy of the greater community.

God said when we remember these "least" of all in society, it brings about God's blessing on the work of our hands (Deuteronomy 24:19). And we should remember them because we are what we are because of His blessings and nothing else (Deuteronomy 24:22). Furthermore, He commands us to care for these: the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow (Deuteronomy 24:22b).

Our devotion and worship of God is required and many of us are good at this (or at least attending a church service somewhere). But our care for those who can't care for themselves is also just as important (according to God's Word).

So, my question for today is...

"What have I done and what am I doing for the least of these: the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow?" 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

When Eleven Days turns into Forty Years...

As the family of Jacob was coming out of decades of captivity in Egypt and marching towards God's promised land, God had them in a crucible that was molding them into the nation of Israel and a people wholly belonging to Himself. It was nothing short of miraculous how God brought them out of Egypt and started them on the journey from the land of Goshen to the Promised Land. However, the Bible tells us in Deuteronomy that it was normally an eleven day journey from Horeb (the mountain of sacrifice) to Kadesh-barnea (the gateway into the Promised Land). Yet, it took them all of 40 years to make that 11 day journey.

Part of this was due to Israel's disobedience along the way. Another part had to do with Israel's lack of faith to trust God to keep His Word. I see the most of it as God's timing. Israel was not ready to step into God's promise and needed more time to develop as a people. The 40 years in the wilderness was pretty much running laps around Mt. Sinai. But during that time, the nation learned to depend on God like never before and they learned how to fight and survive in hardened conditions. In the wilderness, they were totally helpless apart from the provisions of God: food from heaven (manna and quail), water from unlikely sources (rocks, desert sands, etc.) and clothing that never wore out. Learning total dependency on God. But they also learned how to be a community and how to go to war along the way as well. All a part of God's plan...

I want a lot of things and it would be nice if they came in 11 days. However, I find more and more, God needs 40 years (or in my case, much more) to bring me to those things, His promises. I would like to enroll in the "11 Day Step-by-Step Program to be like Jesus." God knows I need and require 40 years or more to even start to come close. I would like an "11 Day to Solve the World's Problem" program. God evidently has a different timetable.

For now, I guess it I need to be content in knowing that God's timing and process is not only different than mine but infinitely better as well. As I wander through my own wildernesses of life, I would do well to learn, like Israel, how to be totally dependent on God and how to go to battle. Maybe then, when I arrive at His Promise, I will be a bit better prepared to enter into it.

Thank you God for your amazing grace and mercy extended to me along my journey. Whether 11 days or 40 years, may I walk well with You.


Monday, July 23, 2012

Poverty and Giving...

I just read an article that said poverty in the United States is reaching an all time high since the 1960's. Sometime in the near future, about 16% of Americans will be living at or below the official poverty line. While this number is high and disturbing (especially if you're in that 16%), it is still relatively small in comparison with poverty in other parts of the world such as in developing nations.

These are hard times. We see evidence everywhere we look from more and more people standing on street corners to the legion of foreclosed homes we drive by or see listed in the newspapers. But even those these are hard times, these are also wonderful times for the church and the people of God to step up and care for those in need.

But how do we help in these difficult times? Most of us are feeling the pinch as well due to rising fuel and food costs. There never seems to be enough to go around.

Here are some practical things that you and I can do to help those in need...

1. Plan to give. I encourage first and for most to tithe to your local church that you are involved in. Giving 10% from your first-fruits honors God and blesses you and your family. But above the 10%, I try to set some goals of what we can give as a blessing to others. I won't give any amounts here but it might be that you set a challenge percentage or amount per month to give to those you see in need.

2. Be open handed to the poor. This is very Biblical. True, we can't help everyone. But we can help those we see or come in contact with. Will you be taken advantage of? Maybe. But the rewards of helping far offset the perceived fears of being exploited.

3. Use a "gleanings" mentality (based on Leviticus 19:9-10). I commit to place my pocket change in a container for giving to the World Hunger Fund. I wind up "gleaning" around $20 per month from simple pocket change that I would never miss.

4. Consider giving up something that you won't miss to save money and bless others. A young man I have the pleasure of knowing encourages high school and college students to give up a soft drink each week and use that money to help drill wells in Dar Fur. He calls it "dollar for a drink." Maybe we could give up a meal per week devoting the time in prayer and the resources saved to feed the hungry.

During these hard times, it is hard to set aside funds to help others. But God rewards the generous giver and if we are experiencing hard times, think of those who are living at or below the poverty level.

In 2 Corinthians 8:4, Paul compliments the churches of Macedonia who gave sacrificially out of there poverty and affliction to help others in need. He says that even out of their deep poverty and affliction, "they begged us insistently for the privilege of sharing in the ministry to the saints...".

He then goes on to say, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: Thought He was rich, for your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich." (2 Corinthians 8:9)

Even in hard times, we should be more aware and committed to meeting the needs of others. It honors God, it blesses us (when we bless others) and it demonstrates Christ and leads to opportunity to speak truth into people's lives.

May God bless you as you bless others!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Fickled People...

I am struck by the fickleness of people. I am probably more struck by my own fickled nature. I am even maybe even a bit frustrated at my fickleness.

When Moses is leading the Israelites out of captivity and the come to the wilderness, he lays out God's covenant to them. They have just seen the great deliverance from Egypt and the destruction of Pharaoh's army in the Red Sea. They have seen the cloud by day and pillar of fire by night. They've tasted manna from heaven and drank water from a rock. So when Moses comes before them and tells the people all the commands of the Lord and all the ordinances, the people respond in unity, with resolve in one single voice, "We will do everything that the Lord has commanded!" (Exodus 24:3)

Great picture of obedience and love for God and His laws, correct? Then why just a few days later when God is giving His Law on the mountain, the people turn completely away from God, have Aaron (who is supposed to be maintaining order) cast for them a golden calf idol that they begin to worship, dance and bow down to? I can only think of one word: fickleness!

Actually, I can think of many other words to describe this: sin, carnal nature, superstition - the list goes on. But my first thought is, "how can people be so fickled that at one moment they are praising and worshipping God and the next they are bowing down to idols?"

Here are the lessons....

1. If we take our eyes off God for even a moment, we are subject to the human condition called fickleness. We become more and more like Jesus by gazing into His glory. We tend to become more like ourselves (and the Father of all lies) when we take our eyes off God and place them on things like a golden calf.

2. It is easier to see the fickleness of others than it is to see our own fickleness. Really, I was angered once again when I read through this passage. I kept saying to myself, "How could they do this? Worship God one moment and dance like heathens before an idol the next?" But don't we do the same today (just not in front of a golden calf)? We go to church on Sunday morning, worship and rush to our favorite restaurant (we want to beat the members of that other church who lets out about the same time) while passing by housing projects full of hungry people (both physically and spiritually).  We "do our devotions" in the morning and shortly after we close the covers on our Bible,  we are consumed with the worries of the world and work out of our own strength, ideas and cunning while all the time living as if the God we just read about was some distant and irrelevant figure-head of a nice religion. We, as good standing Christian people, waltz through our whole day, encountering countless numbers of lost people and never once stop to take time to share the gospel. You get the picture...

I am a pretty good person. But I am also a pretty fickled person. I live a life of contrast somewhere between who I know I ought to be and who I really am. I join the Apostle Paul in proclaiming...

"...For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do tit. For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do...So I discover his principle: When I want to do what is good, evil is with me. For in my inner self I joyfully agree with God's law. But I see a different law in the parts of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and taking me prisoner to the law of sin in the parts of my body..." (Romans 7:18-25)

So maybe the core of my spiritual journey is simply stated as this: I need to grow out of my own fickleness...

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Right as Rain...

Do you ever wonder where some of our idioms and catchphrases come from? I do. For instance, the phrase, "right as rain", refers to the fact that everything is perfectly fine or "right".

After a number of weeks without rain and soaring heat setting records in the Nashville area, we finally got some rain the other night and temperatures cooled down a bit. On Monday morning, I woke up to a lawn that had been literally brown the day before and was now sprinkled with splotches of green. Tiny blades of grass had emerged almost as if they were singing praises to the Creator for the water provided.

On the way to work I noticed, what seemed to me, a freshness and cleanness in just about everything I saw. From the roads and the washed away weeks of dust accumulation to the trees and shrubs whose limbs seemed to be a little more straighter and pointing heavenward, I said to myself regarding the world I was seeing that things were as "right as rain".

After the much needed rainfall, everything was right or "right as rain". The world looked much better even hopeful that things would return to normal.

Don't you long for the day that everything is really and forever as "right as rain"? A day when wars will cease, diseases will no longer exist, death and the grave will be defeated once and for all? And the best is that it will all be right for the simple fact that the Righteous One will return and make it all so. And, to those He has chosen and called, to those who have answered, it will all be "right as rain" for eternity to come.

This life is good but surely this isn't the way that it should be. Children shouldn't be hungry. Fathers shouldn't walk out on their families. People shouldn't be enslaved to all kinds of addictions. One class or one ethnicity shouldn't oppress another.

Just like the other morning after the rainfall when everything seemed new, I long for the day that God will intervene in consummation of His plans and make all things "right as rain."

Don't you?

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Bible's Effect on My Life...

Yesterday, I finished reading the through the Bible for the first time this year. I started this morning again in Genesis chapter one because I devotionally try to read it two times per year and have been since my 33rd birthday. I had been reading the Bible through once per year from 18 to 32 years of age but came under conviction to read it at least twice per year. Not for sermons, ideas or for knowledge but to know God (and myself) better.

If I counted right, this last reading finally caught me up with my age so that I have now read the Bible through, as a devotional discipline, once for every year of my life. I'll be 53 soon. Since my "readings" now match my age, I have a couple of reflections that I would like to share regarding the effects that I have seen God's Word have on my life...

1. If I live a lot longer and read it 53 more times or 103 more times or even a thousand, it will always be new and fresh and God will always have something new to teach me.

2. God's word never changes. On the contrary, the more I read it, the more it seems to be changing me. After all it is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword. :)

3. The more I know and delve into God's word, the more passionate I become for people and their eternal destination as well as compassionate and concerned with people and their physical suffering. I guess you could say that His word working in our lives increases our love for Him and for others.

4. I am more convinced of my own depravity and sinfulness. His word is a mirror into my soul and being and its light reveals the hidden things of my heart; even the things I try to hide from myself.

5. The more I know the word of God, the more I love God Himself.

6. Sometimes I do stumble and sleepwalk through my devotional reading of His word but He gently and sometimes not-so-gently wakes me up with an amazing truth through the discipline of reading and the prompting of His Spirit.

As the Psalmist says, "Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path..."

I can't wait to see what He is going to teach me in the next 53 readings...