When the Command is GO!

GOGenesis 12: 1-9

In the book What Good is God? author Phillip Yancey tells the story of Stephen Alfred – a believer he met in India.  Yancey writes:  “[Stephen] had studied in England, married an English woman, and built up a thriving surgery practice until one night he had a kind of vision. He heard God ask him three questions: Why did I make you Indian? Why did I make you good? What are you doing about it? Haunted by those questions, he left his practice, moved his family to India, and opened a hospital that focuses on serving the poor.”

I imagine that Stephen could have lived out the rest of his years in comfort and contributed to the needs of his homeland with dutiful checks sent out each month.  But God sent out the command:  Go!

I sat in a small country church in rural Tennessee one morning and heard the same call.  I had always been unnerved by the Great Commission.  If God called me, would I go?  I wasn’t even sure I wanted to.  I finally struck up a bargain with God that brought me some peace.  I reasoned with God that my primary barrier to missions work was money.  If I only had the means to go… I would go.  But I was just a struggling college student with a part-time youth ministry position… I knew such a call would never come.

Then came a Sunday morning in East Tennessee when the pastor from the pulpit announced a mission trip to Venezuela.  If anyone felt the call to go, the church would pay all the expenses.  I was caught… and I knew it.  I went forward that morning at the altar call.  A few months from then I was on a plane to South America.

Back in Chapter 11 of Genesis, we are introduced to  a man named Terah.  Terah had the radical idea of moving his entire family from the large city of Ur to a sparsely populated region known as Canaan.  So his clan pack up their possessions, put their families on camels and set out.  But they didn’t get very far.  They ended up settling in a town called Haran.  Haran was a flourishing caravan city in 19th Century B.C. and was heavy into the worship of the Moon-God.  Terah, we learn in Jos 24:2, was an idolater and would have felt right at home in Haran.  Genesis 11:31 reads: “When they came to Haran, they settled there.”  We then learn in verse 32 that Terah died in Haran.

It is when they are in Haran that Terah’s son, Abram, receives a unique call from God:  Go forth from your country, and from your relatives  and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you;  And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse.  and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

Yahweh’s first command of Abram is: Go.  It is a radical, life altering, exciting, and mind-blowing command.  Such is the call of God!   It is the parent bird kicking the baby bird from the nest.  And that is why it can be so hard to to obey when God calls. We get ourselves nestled in here on earth.

Look at Abram.  He was tied in to Haran!  His family was there.  Family back then was everything.  He was being called from his family’s homeland… to march out to no-where-land.  Haran was an up and coming city.  Abram had lots of possessions.  He could take a lot with him… but he would leave behind a lot… primarily land.  And he had flocks and herds… they aren’t the easiest things to travel with.  Then he had the model of Terah.  Terah made big plans to conquer the unknown and then settled.  He would live in die in Haran… not in the Promised Land.  Bucking one’s family’s tendencies takes some strong resolve.

Face it: Pulling up roots is hard.  But when the clear call of God comes, the call out of our comfort zone and into the unknown, what are we to do?  We don’t get to see the inner struggle within Abram at the calling (if indeed there was one).  The next verse in Scripture reads:  So Abram went forth as the Lord had spoken to him…

Perhaps today you are wrestling with a calling… God is calling you out.  You feel you don’t have the resources (I certainly felt that way about missions as a young man); you feel too old and settled (so did aging Abram); you feel uncertain about the details of such a decision (so has anyone that has ever stepped out in faith).

Just answer these three questions:  1)  Why did God make you?  2)  Why did God make you good?  and 3)  What are you going to do about it?

The answer to those questions might just send you packing… to a new career, to a new city, to a new mission.  But that’s okay… the one who commands is the One who provides, the One who makes young, the One who fills in the details.   Ours is to listen; ours is to obey.  In the words of Oswald Chambers:  “A life lived listening to the decisive call of God is a life lived before one audience that trumps all others—the Audience of One. The caller is God.”

Blessings!

 

Advertisements

Gift Exchange

gift exchangeRomans 1:11-12

“I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong– that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.”

Not too long ago, Saddleback Church in Southern California surveyed over 8,000 of their new members and asked them why they joined.  Their results:

#10 – Special Events and Activities
#9 – Location Near Our Home
#8 – Missions
#7 – Different Styles of Worship
#6 – Small Groups and Discipleship Classes
#5 – Pastoral Care
#4 – Children’s and Youth Ministry
#3 – Service Opportunities
#2 – Worship
#1 – Preaching and Teaching 

Interesting list!  There is a lot for church leaders to take in here.  But can I offer one more to the list.  One that might entice you to a church that doesn’t have half of the others:  a place to minister.  (I realize “service opportunities” might provide this.  But I’m trying to hone in on something more specific.)  Every person that joins a church must discover their God given “ministry.”  The purpose of their personal existence and their reason for being a part of that specific body.

I heard many years ago from a popular Christian leader that churches should have “human scaffolding.”  What he meant by this was that there needed to be some that just came and supported the ministry with their money.  I cannot find a Biblical support for this ministry strategy.  Everyone is called to bring their gifts to the body and to find a ministry in which to employ them.

And yet, what do people look for when they visit a church?  Good teaching, cleanliness, friendliness, something for the kids, etc.

In this introduction of his letter to the Romans, Paul informs them that he would like to visit them.  But he is clear on his intent!  He isn’t going to Rome to see the Forum or the Coliseum.  He comes bearing gifts!

What does Paul mean by this?  I don’t believe that Paul is bringing with him a certain spiritual gift that they had been lacking, such as tongues or another manifestation of the Spirit.  Paul never claims to “institute” a specific gift anywhere… that is the job of the  Holy Spirit.  By “impart,” I believe Paul refers to the benefit that they will receive when he exercises his own spiritual gifts among them.  Why does Paul want to do this?

1)     That you may be established.

The Greek word is sterizo (stay-rid’-zo):  “To make stable, firm and to strengthen or fix.”  This is the word that Jesus used in Luke 16:26.  He told Peter that he would deny him three times that encouraged him by saying:  “…but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again strengthen your brothers.” Luke 16:26

The Christian life is one of stability and strength.  But we need the help of others to get there.  Paul’s goal in life:  Colossians 1:28-29 – “to present every man complete in Christ.  And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.”

We tend to listen to experts on fitness, diet and health (sometimes) as authoritative.  Bur preachers, teachers and evangelists… not so much.  We get defensive.  We get that American pioneer spirit.  “If it is to be… it’s up to me!”

We are forever pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps.  But we need to receive the gifts that God gives us by way of fellow believers.  They are instrumental in our reaching God’s goals for our lives.

Would you have the humility to do that?  Paul did.

2) “…that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine.”

NIV omits “both yours and mine”… maybe because it is repetitive… but Paul repeats it to make his point stronger.  This is a gift exchange… not a one way receiving.  Paul says:  “I learn from you as well as you learn from me.”

We need to be encouraged by the gift others bring to the body.  We shouldn’t get jealous or envious… or critical.  We must mutually encourage each other!

So what are you looking for in a church?  We should see if their doctrine is sound and if they are strong in outreach, etc.  But we should also ask… do they need the gifts that I would bring there if I joined? 

Remember, Jesus told us to pray that the Father would send more laborers into the vineyard… but not once did he request any “human scaffolding.”

Discouraged in Sin City

vegasActs 18:1-22

This blog will complete our trip with Paul and Silas on what has been called “The Second Missionary Journey.”

Paul begins Mission Corinth… discouraged.  His second journey had netted little by way of results.  He was fatigued… having just walked 53 miles from Athens to Corinth.  He has yet to stay in one city that long.  Converts were scarce in three of the four venues thus far.  And he is alone when he wanders into Corinth.

If there is anything harder than reaching Athenians with their intellectual pursuits it is reaching Corinthians with their lustful ones.

For Paul has just entered the red light district of the ancient world.  Central to their pagan worship was worship of the love goddess, Aphrodite.  Illicit sex was rampant with worship including state run prostitution. If you’ve ever walked through a wild alcoholic party, you’ve walked down main street Corinth.

This was challenging for Paul.  It is one thing to argue for the defense of the Gospel in a debate club and quite another to attempt it at a drunken gala.

And for the first time, I see in the Scriptures, Paul was a little scared:  In First Corinthians 2, he is honest: “When I came to you, … I was with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling;” {1 Cor 2:1a, 2:3 RSV}. Paul was tired, stressed and a little frightened as he rolled into Corinth.  He could use a little encouragement.

Heard the story of a band that had what they thought was one die hard fan.   They were performing in a park before an audience that had gradually dwindled down to one lone man.  After pounding out more songs, one of the tired musicians finally suggested to the music lover that if he left they could all go home.

“Do whatever you want,” said the man.  “I’m just waiting around so I can put away the chairs.” (“All in a Day’s Work,” Reader’s Digest, August 2007, p. 54.)

Do you ever get the feeling that no one is listening to your music?  If only someone could lend you a little encouragement.  But where do you go to find encouragement?     Where is the reassuring voice that everything is going to be alright… that despite the trying times that God is with you and will see you through?

Paul found encouragement the same way we can.

1.  Encouragement through ministry friends.

Verses 2 & 3 of Acts 18 say:

2There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, 3and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them.

Fellow Christians with the same ministry goals and the same secular vocation!  What a find for Paul!  Or perhaps the Lord knew what he needed in just the right time.

You will have a lot of friendships in your lifetime, not all of them will be, or should be, with just believers.  But friendships with Jesus as your focus will be among the most encouraging.

2.  Encouragement through Small Victories

Corinth was tough… but not impenetrable.  Verses 7 & 8 say:

7Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. 8Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized.

After initial rejection… there is some response.  Paul couldn’t convince the majority of the synagogue, but he did convert the head guy.  Crispus and his whole family came to know the Lord.  The ruler of the synagogue!  Small victories like that keep you going.  What small victories are you overlooking in your life?

3.  Encouragement through Prayer.

Sometimes when you friends and small victories can’t help, you need to run to the Father.  He knows what to say to get you back on your feet.

God speaks to Paul during this trying time:  “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.”  (v.9b-10)

Simple direct words for the discouraged:  “Don’t be afraid.”  “Keep going.”  “I am with you.”  “I am not finished with My work that I want to get done through you.”

Paul kept at it.  His band of missionaries played on in the midst of a hostile environment.  And guess what?  For all of Paul’s fear and trembling… He spends more time in Corinth than any other place on the second journey! (1 year and six months)  He settles in and does significant work for the Kingdom.  The scariest city ends up being one of the most fruitful.

Where does God have you right now?  Frightened?  Hang in there… God still has many people in this city.  Keep going.  He’s not finished with you yet.

Running Out of Real Estate

Pick up the phone 2

 

  Acts 16:6-8cliff

  “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phyrgia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia.  When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.  So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas.”

Paul is seeking and reaching and praying… and he isn’t getting anywhere.  The Holy Spirit stops him from preaching in Asia.  The Spirit of Jesus won’t let him touch Bithynia.

This is different from his first missionary journey.  It was wondrous.  Paul and Barnabas traveled through Asia, founding churches and setting people on fire for the gospel. But after returning home things cooled off a bit.  They come back to a less than rapturous welcome from a Jerusalem church, who wanted to know what they were doing baptizing Gentiles!  Then there was a fall out between Paul and Barnabas.  The dream team splits.  Barnabas heads off with Mark and Paul journeys with Silas instead.

Now this trip is not going so well!  Bouncing from city to city they can’t plant a toehold in any of them.  They were prevented… they weren’t allowed!  Whatever form this took, it sounds to me like a lot of angry faces and slammed doors.

Faced any rejection lately?  Impeccable skills and a flawless resume have not turned up one good job interview?  Your past experience in a certain ministry field is now turning out underwhelming results?  What gives?  What can you do to find where God can use you best?

In Matthew 7:7, Jesus said we were to “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.”  You have probably heard somewhere before that the verbs for “Ask,” “seek” and “knock” are all present tense verbs in Greek… meaning they should be translated:  “keep on asking,” “keep on seeking,” and “keep on knocking.”

That is what Paul does.  He can’t find the place he is suppose to serve… so he keeps moving.  He Troaskeeps going and going until he reaches the city of Troas.  Now Troas was a sea port.  That means that Paul and Silas plumb ran out of real estate!  In the next few verses God is going to open their eyes to a brand new mission field.  But first, imagine the two of them “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay.”  They are painted into a corner, at the end of the road… Troas!  Maybe that’s where you are right now…  out of options and very desperate.

God may have you there because he wants to open your eyes to a whole new way of viewing your world.  And this often comes at the end of where your own ingenuity has taken us.  So don’t despair.  Keep asking!  Keep seeking!  Keep knocking!  God will grant a vision in His timing!

Many years ago, a young writer interviewed the legendary IBM president Thomas J. Watson.  He was given some unusual advice by the industrialist:  “It’s not exactly my line,” Watson said, “but would you like me to give you a formula for writing success?  It’s quite simple, really.  Double your rate of failure.”

Watson continued, “You’re making a common mistake.  You’re thinking of failure as the enemy of success.  But it isn’t at all.  Failure is a teacher—a harsh one perhaps, but the best.”

Then he looked at the young writer and asked him a critical question:  “You say you have a desk full of rejected manuscripts?  That’s great!  Every one of those manuscripts was rejected for a reason.  Have you pulled them to pieces looking for that reason?”

Arthur Gordon, the man who had interviewed Watson, went on to become a nationally known author and editor.  He had originally gone to Watson for an interview, but Watson gave him something much more precious.  He gave him a new perspective on failure.   (Gary J. Oliver in How to Get it Right After You’ve Gotten it Wrong, pp. 26-27.)

Failing?  Running out of ideas?  Do what Paul did… keep moving… keep listening.

God may be ready to completely blow your mind with what He has in store for you.

Heated Debate

fightActs 15: 36-41

37 Barnabas wanted to take John, called Mark, along with them also. 38 But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus.

I read a recent article on a Christian website titled:  “10 Honest Observations from a Former Church Insider.”  The author of the article had been a pastor for many years and then at a relatively young age (for reasons not cited) had to step down.  He mentioned what it was like to now be an “outsider” in church.  He listed 10 things that he saw were problems that perhaps someone so close to the heartbeat of a church might be blinded to.  I agreed with him on just about everything and appreciated his insights… and was about to move on.  Then I read the comments from pastors that read the article before me.  Many were not kind!  They didn’t like much of what the author had to say, but sometimes it bordered on people not liking him personally.  One critic wrote:  “I will gladly take advice from anyone willing to get in there and do the work. Not just leave when things are not going their own way.”  Another wrote:  “I became bored with hearing the same “complaints” from yet another disenchanted church goer.”   The idea of hearing ideas from a “quitter” was too much for some.

Just when I was completely discouraged… a number of Barnabas people stepped in and saved the day… offering encouragement and peace.   Some were among bloggers that I trust David I. Guinn and Joe McKeever.

I call these men Barnabas people because the comment page appeared to me at times to be a retelling of the sharp disagreement Paul and Barnabas had over Mark way back in the book of Acts.  It was a “sharp” disagreement… as the Greek will bear out.  Barnabas wanted to give his cousin another chance.  Paul wanted to show him the door.

The Bible does not tell us who was right or wrong,  just that the debate was heated and the result was a split of the Apostolic Missionary Super Team.   NT Scholar A.T. Robertson remarked:  “No one can rightly blame Barnabas for giving his cousin John Mark a second chance nor Paul for fearing to risk him again.  One’s judgment may go with Paul, but one’s heart goes with Barnabas.”

There is so much irony in this passage.  the second missionary journey began with the idea of checking up on people and churches from the first journey and seeing how they were doing spiritually .   Yet Paul is ready to give John Mark the boot before he even takes the young man’s spiritual temperature!  The second ironic thing is that Paul should have known by now the heart of his friend, Barnabas.  It wasn’t too long ago that Barnabas pulled a snot nosed kid out of the gutter and offered that young man a chance when no one else would even trust him… I refer, of course, to Paul himself.

My heart goes out to those who wrote out of concerned for this young man and his quest to find God… and to all Barnabas types that may face some rough criticism, but are still willing to extend a hand to “quitters” in an effort to help.

More on this… and a story too… later this week.

Did Easter Happen to You?

From Tablet 2 1622 Corinthians 5:17

After a Maundy Thursday communion service, a pastor sat with his small child who was asking what it all meant.  The Thursday meal was described as the last meal Jesus had with His friends.  Good Friday was the day Jesus was killed.  Easter was a wonderful day, because that was the day God raised Jesus from the dead.

Then the boy asked, “Daddy, will Easter ever happen to me?”  What a question:  “Will Easter ever happen to me?”

Great question!  Let me phrase to you in this way:  “Did Easter happen to you?”  I’m not asking if you went to church last Sunday or if you consumed a chocolate bunny or went to a fancy buffet.  I’m not even asking what you did on March 31st of this year.  (2013)  I’m asking:  Have you ever experienced the resurrection that occurs when Jesus becomes the Lord of your life?  Do you have a resurrection story?

Paul says:  “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”  We come to life in Him.

Recently came across the testimony of Nard Pugyao:  “In March of 1956 (when I was about 6), a tall, pale, white man stumbled into my home village of Dibagat in the northern jungles of the Philippine island of Luzon. The man didn’t speak our language, so our elders asked him the best they knew how, “Why are you here?”

“I’ve come to learn your language,” he said. “I’d like to write it down and then give you God’s Word in your language.”

“Who is your God?” the elders asked.

“He’s the God of Heaven and earth,” the man answered. “He’s the Creator of the universe. He created you, too.”

“Is he powerful?” the elders probed. “More powerful than the spirits that have controlled our lives from the beginning of time? Is he more powerful than our ancestors, the head-hunters?”

“Yes, he’s more powerful.”

Hopeful, we started teaching this man, Dick Roe, our language. Maybe his God could free us from the spirits.

When I was about 13, Dick had to return to the United States to raise support for his ministry. But before he went back, he translated the Gospel of Mark and gave me a copy. While he was gone, I started reading the Bible for the first time, beginning with the Easter story and continuing through chapter 16. Sitting on top of a rock, I read the Gospel of Mark in my heart language. It felt like I was actually there, seeing the characters.

But the further I read, the more distressed I felt. A mob of people came to get Jesus out of the Garden of Gethsemane. What did he do wrong? I read as fast as I could. They accused him of all kinds of false things. They mocked him, spat on him, beat him, and took him before Pilate. Then the scourge and the crown of thorns. It was excruciating to read that they forced him to carry a wooden cross and then nailed him to it.

Deep in my heart, a hatred of God swelled. I shook my fist and shouted: “I hate you, God, for being so powerless! Why should I believe in a powerless God like you?” With all my strength I threw the Gospel of Mark down to the rocks and started walking home. I couldn’t understand why God wouldn’t protect his own Son. Our headhunters defended us to the death. Because of them, no one could touch us. I wanted a god like that—someone who would protect me from the spirits that demanded we sacrifice our cows, chickens, pigs, and dogs. This God didn’t even save his own Son.

Suddenly, God reached down into my heart. “Nard, don’t you understand?” I heard him say. “That’s how much I love you. I gave my Son on your behalf.” For the first time, I understood grace. I understood how much God loved me.

“God, if you love me that much,” I prayed, “I want to give you my life, my heart. It’s all yours.” I went back and picked up my Gospel, brushed it off, and sat back on that rock to see what happened next. It was an incredible moment as I read that Jesus rose from the grave on the third day. Nobody in all of Dibagat, nobody from among the Isnag people, had ever risen from the grave. The resurrection story changed my life.  (Nard Pugyao  (“Penetrating Power,” Decision (July-August 2006), p. 18; ©2006 Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, used by permission, all rights reserved)

Don’t throw the Bible when you get to the end of the Gospel.  There is a resurrection coming.  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ… and let Easter happen to you!