Thursday, January 26, 2017

A Tale of a Race . . .

Three men find out about a marathon they can enter, and all three feel they should enter it. Two men are very well off, very physically fit, and have tremendous resources at their disposal. The third is crippled and poor.

The first two men use their gym membership to the fullest. They train daily, they keep charts of their progress, they buy organic food and eat very healthy, etc. The third, the man crippled and poor, trains as best as he can within his limitations, and eats as best as he can within his financial boundaries.

On race day they all line up amidst a multitude of other people entering the race and spectators. The starting gun goes off.

The first of the two men with everything on their side runs with all he has. He focuses on the finish line and leaves nothing on the course. He pours it all out and crosses the finish line exhausted, having used every muscle and benefit of training and healthy cell in his body to do so, and having let no spectators or tiredness deter him from his focus. He collapses to the ground and from the ground he looks up and sees his time. It is a new record!

The second of the two men with everything on their side jogs along comfortably. He flexes his muscles to the crowd now and then and beams at their oohhs and aahhs. He is so physically fit and has been able to treat his body so well, that he has no problem finishing the race at a relaxed jog, in the middle of the pack, not really having pushed himself and still having a lot in the tank.

The third man—the one crippled and without a lot of resources to draw on—limps along. The bulk of the crowd leaves him far behind. But he pushes with all he has and gives it everything. He, too, leaves nothing behind, though his body is weak with out the nutrients it should have. He strains his body, he endures the pain, he keeps his mind and heart focused on the finish line. He finally crosses the line and he too collapses. He is near the back of the pack, and his time is no record, but he knows he held nothing back and left nothing behind.

Of these three men, which one or ones do you think crossed the finish line with joy, knowing he'd run the best race he could with what he was given?

Of these three men, which one or ones do you think had the sponsor of the race and those waiting at the finish line say, "Well done, you ran the race, you finished the course, you poured it all out, we are proud of you"?

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.


Related Posts with Thumbnails