A Painful Comparison; 3 of 3

You were asked whether you would take a Sunday school class this term, and you are sitting in church wondering why you foolishly agreed to do so. You look at Bob, sitting next to you, and think: “Why am I doing kids’ ministry? It’s not fair that I spend hours each week preparing for my class and all Bob has been signed up for is door duty. Bob only has to stand out front and greet people a couple of Sundays! I hope I get that duty next quarter…”

What does God say? Perhaps something like: “Stop looking at Bob. You’re where I placed you. Let it build your character. Keep your eyes on Me.”

Meanwhile, Bob gets to church early the next week and as he stands out side, waiting for the first members to arrive, he thinks: “God, why did you give me this job? You know that I’m horrible at making small talk! I never know what to say to people. My palms are sweating, I’m so nervous! Can’t I hide out in the kitchen, preparing morning tea?”

What would God say to Bob? Maybe: “Be strong and courageous.” Perhaps, He would not give any words, just a gentle peace to Bob that He was beside him.

It can be easy to compare our ministry to that of others. Sometimes we do so pridefully, believing we have the more important, or more significant, call. Other times we do so covetously, wishing we were living their life, or had their giftings. Often we do so simply out of idle curiosity.

This issue of comparison is not a new one. It is shown even amongst Christ’s disciples. How did Christ respond? Let’s have a look:

And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?”
But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.
And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”
(Mark 9:33-35).

And on another occasion:

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who had been reclining at table close to him and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?”
Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”
(John 21:20-22).

Christ calls us to follow Him, not looking to the right or to the left. Do not stumble by gazing on the task of another. Keep your eyes on Christ and you will remain sure-footed.

 

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Who Am I?

I challenge you to answer the question “who am I?” before reading on.

Make a list of what you find identity in. What defines you? What defines your life?

Does your list contain “mother”, “daughter”, “friend”, or “spouse”? Does it include your profession? Did you list a sport or club membership? Did you note down character attributes or descriptions, such as: “intelligent”, “nice smile”, “failure”, “stern”, or “humorous”?

In what do you find your identity?

The above suggestions are all true attributes of earthly identities. But what of your spiritual identity; your true and lasting identity?

Do you wear royal garments? Are you a son of the King? Do you own the identity God has given to you? Are you a child of God?

This is the identity of those of us in Christ:

  • A son of God (Galatians 4:6; Ephesians 1:5)
  • An heir in the Kingdom of God (Galatians 4:7)
  • Have an inheritance in the Kingdom of God (Ephesians 1:11-14)
  • A friend of Christ (John 15:15)
  • Saved (Romans 10:9-13)
  • Slaves of righteousness, not sin (Romans 4:17-18)
  • Dead to sin; alive in Christ (Romans 6:11)
  • Washed, sanctified, justified (1 Corinthians 6:11)
  • Holy and blameless before Him (Ephesians 1:4)
  • Redeemed, forgiven (Ephesians 1:7)
  • A new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)
  • His workmanship (Ephesians 2:10)
  • Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16)
  • Sealed with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13)
  • Blesses with every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3)
  • . . . and the list goes on!

Casting Crowns reflects on what Christ has done for us in their song “Who Am I?”. Here is the link to their song on You Tube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mBcqria2wmg&feature=related

Put Him to the Test – 2 of 3

 Part 2 – the Call

Last time we looked at God’s challenge to the Israelites:

Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.

Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. (Malachi 3:8-10).

Most of you will know that the Law of Moses commanded a tithe (10% of their earnings, crops, etc) from the people. There is much debate about what is demanded from God today, in regards to the tithe. But the simple answer? God demands everything.

Having observed God’s challenge to the Israelites, our next question naturally turns inward, as we ask: “What is demanded of Christians? Of us today?”

Paul knew: Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. (Philippians 2:17).

No longer is the command the offer of physical sacrifices; Paul gave his life as the sacrifice – just as Christ gave Himself for us.

Christ was clear:

And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21).

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. (Luke 9:23-24).

Take note that the call to walk in faith is again partnered with a promise of rewards.

God demands our very lives – but the reward is treasure in heaven, eternal joy, the glory of Christ . . . and, in the life to come: He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelations 21:4).

To be a follower of Christ is to carry a cross. There will be suffering – it is to be expected – but our reward is that we have been welcomed into Christ’s Kingdom as the children of God and fellow heirs of Christ.

Put God to the test – pick up your cross and receive LIFE. It can be scary, it certainly takes faith, but the reward is treasure in heaven.

The ‘Unloveable’ Lonely

I watched the Gran Torino with Mark a few weeks back. Whilst I would not recommend it to anyone with a faint heart, I personally found it very moving. It is an intense movie but I found it to be a brilliant social commentary as it looked at one “unloveable”.

Clint Eastwood starts as a bitter old man who has shut everyone out. He remembers “the good old days” when young men stopped to help women and the elderly. He knows houses by the names of their builders and original occupants, not as transitory shells. He grew up in a time when Anglo-Saxons were the main racial group in his area and does not count the new immigrants as Americans. I don’t want to give too much away but I will say that he ends up discovering that friends are not always found where you expect them and family are not always denoted by genes.

The reason that I found the movie touching was the truth I saw within Client Eastwood’s character and the challenge it presented to me. Here was a man who was lonely; longing for someone to see value in him, his life and his skills. He had much to offer but no one, not even his family, looked passed his age nor the shell of bitterness and aggression he hid behind.

 Watching the film I could think of people I have met that hide behind walls to prevent people seeing the pain, loneliness or hurt they live with daily. But these people are treasured by God, made in His image, and have value. It only took one person to allow his wave of bitterness and angst to sweep over them as they stepped inside the wall. Once that one person was inside they were privy to all the wealth of treasure to be found in the old man Client Eastwood played. Then others saw; others came in; the wall melted. His family had wanted him to receive their well intended advice with joyful acceptance so that they would feel good. They did not ask themselves how they could best love him.

Touching. Challenging. Am I prepared to take that initial wave? Am I willing to seek out the treasure in people who throw angry words at me? Am I prepared to step up to those who society classes as ‘unloveable’, who are unwilling to be loved? Am I  prepared to change how I show love to meet another’s needs?

Christ declared these words:

Luke 4:18-19 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Oppression can be of spirit; captivity can be of the mind; poverty can be of the heart. Christ calls us to walk in His ways. If He went out to such people, should we not also stretch out our hands to them and offer them hope, love and friendship?

John 12:46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. Mathew 5:14 “You are the light of the world… Mathew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before others…

This is not easy but it is our call and He will help us. We are called to love. Remember the two greatest commandments; love God and love man. Today let love infiltrate your daily routine – especially extend it to the “unloveables” who are, in fact, loveable and are crying out for love.

 

But mummy, everyone else is doing it!

If we heard these words coming from a child we would think “peer-pressure” and that the Mum should advise their child not to be swayed by others but rather “be their own person”. The trouble is that peer-pressure continues as we age. It is always there. And so I ask: are you building your kingdom, your church’s kingdom, or God’s Kingdom?

There is only one eternal Kingdom and that belongs to Christ. However, we are blessed to have been invited into this Kingdom. Not merely as servants, not even as friends, but as precious and beloved sons and daughters. God has adopted us into a Kingdom of everlasting value. And yet I so often get caught up in the world around me. There is pressure to get a degree or find the right job or build a fortune that will make us feel secure or to cover our flaws so as to win the esteem of men. God tells us to be wise with our money but He also said to the man who built more and larger barns to store his abundance: “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Luke 12:21).

God calls us to live passionately for Him. Compromise is not acceptable to God. There is grace but, as Paul says in Romans 6:1-2, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”

Living, as they say, with one foot in the world and one with Christ is not living with Christ at all. There have been plenty of times where I have tried the world’s way but as soon as I take one eye off God I find myself slipping. When both eyes are fixed on God my life is filled with passion and joy and worship, even amidst sorrows and trials. Take one eye off God – allow my job to become my focus, or the money I’m making, or start desiring the accolades and praise of man – and I find myself becoming tired, dissatisfied or emotionally reactive. Life becomes much harder when God is no longer my focus.

It is easy to be sucked in too; constantly surrounded as we are by the demands of the world. If you don’t have eternity to focus on then someone cutting you off in traffic or your boss not accepting your proposal or a friend turning aside when you need them most can all cause the kettle to start boiling.

Often the only noticeable difference is one of attitude. But our focus makes a big difference to God. Our thoughts, actions and deeds make a difference to God because they reveal our heart’s motive. He calls us to love Him and love man. How many of us live that out on a daily basis? A very straight forward command but one that requires utter reliance on Him if we are to walk it out. The world tells us to look after number one; God commands us to give to those who ask, lend without expecting anything back, and to bless those who curse us.

Let us try and define the point a little more and note some of the differences between the world and God’s Kingdom:

World God’s Kingdom
Store up for tomorrow Give to those in need
Befriend those who love you or can get you ahead in life Befriend the outcast, the poor, the needy; love the unlovable
Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow you die Find it all joy when you suffer for Christ’s sake.
Buy a house or houses; build stability The Son of Man had no where to rest His head; called to follow Him
Indulgence, comfort, more, a “wouldn’t it be nice…” mentality Take up your cross and follow me
You are worth it God is worth everything
Most important thing is… family, spouse, friend, money, position… God is always most important
Fear Perfect love casts out fear
Instant gratification Eternal joy and fulfilment

You may have noticed that I mentioned the church at the start too. The church is the body of Christ and we are called to build God’s Kingdom. Sometimes as individual church congregations we can become focused on self or on what individuals are doing for the church. Our motivation to serve should not be a pastor asking us to but overflowing joy and the love of Christ.

Do you know that the hardest thing He can sometimes ask of us is to do “nothing”? We fear the judgement of man and those who have been challenged by God to give up ministries to focus on Him know how hard this can be. He is able to keep a ministry going without us but we can’t keep it alive without Him! Our desire to serve should be motivated by passion for God and to see His Kingdom built. It should flow from a deep gratitude for what He had done for us. If you aren’t in this place take some time just to sit in His presence; dwell on the Word, His character or play worship music. Bring it back to God!

We each have different gifts and passions and these can be used to serve God. Ask yourself are you serving God or man? If you are serving God it will be a joy but serving man will become a chore or a need for the praise of man.

James 4:13-15 sums it up nicely:  Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”– yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”

Don’t focus on what the world is doing but turn your attention to the task God has called you to.

Stop asking, “What are the Joneses doing?” and start asking “What would God have me do?”