You know that feeling, the one you get when you’ve gone out of your way for someone. Weather in response to that “still, small voice” or personal gumption, there’s a sense of a greater call we tap into when we help those in need. It’s the inexpressible emotions of uniting in labor with Missionaries in the field. It’s the reward found in our sacrifice to make sure others don’t go without. It’s the peace that settles after sharing the grief of the broken and hurting. It’s unspeakable and enduring joy.
While such joy is the theme of life for some, it’s all to rare a glimpse of God’s glory for most. It makes me wonder, is the pursuit of happiness stealing our joy?
While it may seem like a matter of semantics to many, some will agree that there’s an undeniable difference in the happiness that comes from the pursuit of earthly goals and the joy we discover in the work of God’s Kingdom, being His love extended to the overlooked, the devalued, the forgotten, the “least” among us. None-the-less, we spend the greater part of our resources in a lopsided pursuit of a temporary happiness that expires as the luster of our possessions fades, inspiring us to believe that “bigger” and “better” will somehow satisfy the restless desire for our hearts to be filled.
In this context, it’s hard to ignore John’s urging to “…not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.” Peter also acknowledges the key to this joy when he said, “You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.”
Christmas is a natural time of benevolence, and the joy that comes with giving. We’ve missed something though, if we believe God’s intent was that the birth of his Son would merely inspire a season of giving. Rather, His gift to us is that we needn’t settle for the “happiness” of this world, but that we share in the joy of being ambassadors for His Kingdom, giving completely of ourselves in service to others.
If there’s really power in prayer, why is it too often neglected? If there’s a promise that “prayer…has great power and produces wonderful results” (James 5:16), what keeps us from tapping into it? Has something changed about God’s promises? Are we somehow not eligible for those benefits? Have we developed a sense of futility with it all? Or, is it possible that we’re just not doing it correctly?
Paul gives us direct advice concerning our approach to prayer. In Colossians 4:2, he says, “Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart”.
Devote yourself to prayer.
You’re probably familiar with Paul urging the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing“. Paul’s not suggesting we literally live on our knees. Rather, he’s encouraging us to stay in constant communion with the Father. Don’t miss the meaning of this beautiful word, “communion”. One dictionary defines it as “the sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings, especially when the exchange is on a mental or spiritual level”. Don’t just come to God when your back is against the wall. Take full advantage of the direct access you have to Him, in good times and bad.
Pray with an alert mind.
Can anyone successfully argue that God doesn’t deserve our full attention? Effective prayer requires engagement, free from all distractions. Find moments in your day, when you can silence everything around you, and fully engage with God. There just isn’t a substitute for spending quality time in His presence, fully aware of the privilege to have deep, intimate connection with the Father.
Pray with a thankful heart.
“Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation. (Psalm 100)”
I think it would be an error to believe a thankful heart “primes the pump”, somehow ingratiating us to God. Instead, a thankful heart breeds a humble spirit. Hopefully, we haven’t flipped the script, supposing God to be at our bidding, a servant to respond to our demands. He cares greatly for us, and will not refuse a broken and repentant heart (Psalm 51). Make your request known to God, understanding that He has already given us His greatest gift, in His Son, Jesus Christ.
If there’s a missing link in the story of our faith, I believe it’s the absence of the power and authority in which we should live as followers of Jesus Christ. Develop a habit of devoted, alert and thankful prayer. It’s the key to God’s unlimited provision, and will produce evidence the world cannot refuse.
Have you ever stopped to think about the power of sympathy?
We tend to sympathize with people we know, not because we agree with their opinion, but because we’re better able to see from their perspective. When we’re able to see things from a different perspective it allows us to see our own more clearly, revealing both fact and fiction. Sympathy creates a safe place for people to exchange ideas, express emotions and finely tune our understanding. When we sympathize with one another, we can work more effectively towards lasting solutions to common problems. In everything, if you find yourself lacking sympathy, consider holding your tongue while you invest time in the rich experience of getting to know your brother or sister.
In light of recent events, take time to reflect on Luke 6:27-31 where it says:
But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. Do to others as you would like them to do to you.
Can we get real? Are we capable of being honest about ourselves, with ourselves and others? Is it possible to strip away everything we believe and represent ourselves to be, to better see our lives compared to the example we have in Jesus Christ?
At its core , I think it comes down to a basic question of reputation.
It seems that so much of our time and energy, whether intentionally or not, are devoted to developing an image by which the world judges our worth. In that process, I believe we compromise the maximum impact we could have for God’s Kingdom. It’s a matter of personal appearance and clothing labels. How large is your house? What kind of car do you drive? The average American family lives well beyond it’s means to keep pace. All the while, God’s Kingdom and His people go with unmet needs. The poor struggle, with too few helping hands extended their way. The pursuit and maintenance of our reputations seem directly opposed to the work to which we’ve been called.
Compare this to the example Jesus set for us. Philippians 2:5-11 tells us,
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being…he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
I like that the King James version says “(He) made himself of no reputation”, all for the glory of the Father. In laying aside all earthly ambition, He was optimally effective in the work to which His was appointed.
If we’re capable of seeing ourselves for who we are, what warning do we received from James 5:1-3, where it says,
Look here, you rich people: Weep and groan with anguish because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you. Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rags. Your gold and silver are corroded. The very wealth you were counting on will eat away your flesh like fire. This corroded treasure you have hoarded will testify against you on the day of judgment.
Isn’t it time that we see and respond to the needs around us? Isn’t it time we take an honest assessment of the ways in which we limit our impact by literally storing up our treasures in the form of earthly possessions? Isn’t it time we get real?
What’s wrong with this world? It’s a question we’ve probably all asked ourselves at one time or another. Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer…or is there?
In Matthew 22:34-40, Jesus is confronted with a question that’s familiar to many of us. “…An expert in religious law tried to trap him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?’ Jesus replied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: love your neighbor as yourself. The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.'”
Did you catch that? “The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” Obedience to God’s Word should be a natural byproduct of our lives, when we learn to completely love God and those with whom we share this world.
In 1 John 4:7-12, John says,
Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.
The answer, then, to any question of “what’s wrong with this world” might be best solved by answering the question of “what’s wrong with us”.
What sense is there in analyzing the world’s problems with religious and political debates, when our time is better spent finding ways to love one another? What meaning will we find in letting our differences divide us, when His love has come to unify us? What reward is there in capturing possessions for ourselves, when love should motivate us to willingly share with those in need?
“No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.” (1 John 4:12) If people aren’t expereincing God’s love through you, what’s wrong?
Imagine walking into an artist’s gallery, specifically a painter. Take a second to develop that mental picture. I assume you’re envisioning white walls displaying some combination of landscapes, still-lifes, portraits or abstracts in a variety of sizes and colors. Perhaps you’re thinking of a specific artist, or your favorite style of painting. The one thing I bet you’re not imagining is a room filled with uniformly-sized canvases, all painted the same color, showing no variety or contrast, each picture the same, flat, lifeless square as the one before it.
True artists just aren’t like that. They’re creative. They’re bold. They understand how to produce something worthy of our attention.
I’ve always been a “people watcher”. In recent years, however, it has lost a fair amount of entertainment value, as individuals become less and less distinct. Instead of exercising our own creativity, we mimic the styles and preferences of others. It seems like we don’t take the time to discover and develop our own unique identity. Instead, we allow ourselves to be painted over with the image projected onto us by the media and those we’ve allowed to determine what is and is not “acceptable”.
I just can’t imagine this is what God intended.
Do we stop to consider that He has specifically gifted us to complete the work He is creating? Each of us is a unique expression of His love to the world around us. He purposefully filled this canvas with color and contrast and texture and the subtle and obvious variations that make us a masterpiece, both individually and collectively. We are called to be salt and light to this world (Matthew 5:13-16). Don’t allow yourself to blend in with the world around you. Let them, instead, see His art in you.
The telephone game always cracked me up. You remember it, right? It’s the one where someone whispers a phrase to someone else. That person, then proceeds to pass the phrase along, each participant whispering what they think they heard, to the next. After the message has been passed through several people, it morphs into something completely unintended. A phrase that started as “my great granny likes to giggle with mates at work” becomes “my giant fanny looks jiggly when I make it twerk”.
It’s so important to get the message from the source.
What does this mean for us, as Christians, if we neglect to read the Bible and engage in an active prayer life? If all we ever hear of God comes from second-hand sources, how can we ever know that we’re hearing the whole story? How do we know that the parts we are hearing are accurate?
John 8:31-32 says “…You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” If this is true, we better know that we’re hearing the whole truth. There’s no better way of knowing, than getting it straight from the source.
When I enter my house through the laundry room, I’m greeted by total darkness. It’s no problem if I just keep moving, three steps straight forward, reach low for the doorknob, and I’m out. If I stop for even a second, to turn around, to try to let me eyes adjust, I could easily get disoriented. Even in that small room, I might be left fumbling in the dark.
When we find ourselves in a dark place in life, it’s no different. Whether we’ve been there before or it’s brand new territory, the darkness breeds fear. It insights panic. It stops you in your tracks, leaving you disoriented and confused.
Sometimes, though, the fastest way out of the darkness is through it. Have confidence in the plan God has for your life. He has you on this path for a reason. Don’t stop. Don’t even take a second to question your direction. Reach forward to take hold of what God is placing before you. Jesus said, “I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.” (John 12:46)
“Hear the Word of the Lord!” Those words always snap me to attention. It seems they typically precede a warning or pending judgement. What follows should never be taken lightly.
The main source of inspiration for my posts comes from my Bible reading. There’s so much that jumps off the page at me, waiting to be wrapped in a “today’s-world” type of context. God reveals himself through the truth of His Word, making His love for us known. Stepping back, seeing ourselves through the lens of that love is a beautiful and inspiring thing.
There’s a difference, however, when we look at ourselves through the lens of God’s judgement.
This summer, I’ve been reading through books like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. It’s difficult to find encouragement in the words of these books. It’s not easy because this lens shines a hard light on so much that we’ve grown too familiar with: finding comfort in our possessions, yielding ourselves unquestioningly to corrupt authority, ignoring the oppressed, complaining and quarreling, having an inflated sense of ourselves. What is there to say about such things?
My Pastor once said, “if you’re having trouble knowing what to say, maybe the Holy Spirit is telling you to keep your mouth shut”. I love that advice. What do you do, though, if you’re flooded with everything you feel the Holy Spirit what’s to say, and are scared of how it might be received?
What if God wants you to know that it’s not OK to publicly rip into people and places with harsh criticism, filling social media with bitter, passive-aggressive complaints, quarreling and gossiping with and about others? What do you say when God is revealing the selfish pride and idolatrous materialism that is manifest when we brag about and find our identity in promotions and material possessions? How do you convey God’s frustration with a people who sell their allegiance to a political party, becoming more an instrument for their platform than for His love and mercy?
Ezekiel received great instruction when told, “Son of man, let all my words sink deep into your own heart first. Listen to them carefully for yourself. Then go to your people in exile and say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says!’ Do this whether they listen to you or not.” (Ezekiel 3:10-11).
All too often we read/hear God’s judgment with others in mind, not taking the time to listen for ourselves.
Listen for yourself, Pastors. Listen for yourself, Worship Leaders. Listen for yourself, Sunday-School Teachers. Listen for yourself, Youth Workers. Don’t be so quick to assign God’s judgement to “America”. Don’t assume these messages are solely intended for those who, from your perspective, are the appropriate candidates. Listen for yourself. Hear the Word of the Lord.
Thursday, July 22nd 2010
Our final day in El Salvador began as all the others did, with an early breakfast. That was followed by our team packing their belongings and cleaning their dormitories. We assembled outside the cafeteria to load for the airport. Boarding the bus was delayed as long as possible, spending that time playing ninja and saying goodbye to those who wouldn’t accompany us to the airport.
As we waited, we were passed by a team who just arrived for their time of ministry. I think many of us were slightly jealous for what they were about to experience. If I was more aware of how much I would miss El Salvador, I would have taken a few more deep breaths and soaked in the scenery of Castillo del Rey’s beautiful lake-side campus.
A long ride back to the airport allowed us an opportunity to see everything we missed during our nighttime arrival. While some of the route had become familiar to us over the previous days, much of it was new.
After arriving at the airport, we unloaded and prepared for departure. Making ample use of the last moments we had with our host team, we shared goodbyes and wishes of working together again in the future. We built strong relationships with our host team, and knew they would be missed. They did an excellent job of making our time in El Salvador an experience we would never forget.
I wasn’t expecting my return to America to be difficult. Entering America through customs seemed especially harsh. I’m not sure Houston’s TSA agents serve as a great welcome mat for those entering our country. We attempted to keep our group together and ready for the process. All things considered, it was a pretty smooth process.
When we arrived in Virginia, we were greeted by many friends and family. It was a huge surprise to see my wife waiting for me. I thought I had a couple more hours before we would be reunited.
The next couple of weeks was a long slow process of feeling normal in my typical roles again. While it was awesome to get back to being a daddy, and even the responsibilities of work, I felt desperate to hold on to the simple core of discovering what’s truly important in life, drawing people back into relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
I offer these posts as a monument to remind us that we’re still at work, accomplishing this “great commission”
“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
If you were there and remember details or any interesting stories I missed, please add your memories of our ninth day in the comments below. Thank you for reading my journal of our trip to El Salvador. I hope it inspires you to be diligent in your work for the Kingdom and build monuments to those experiences. Tell the world that God is real, and Jesus is alive.