Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Mission Field


"But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing." James 1:25 

She stood looking at the vast mission field she had been assigned to by God Himself. This was unknown territory. There was fear of failure, will she succeed?  Already exhausted and blinded by tears, she began, holding tight to God's hand, taking the first steps into this new territory. This mission would take years, decades of her life. She wondered "will it all be worth it?" Doubts filled her and fear threatened to paralyze her. During the beginning days living and working in her mission field, she often thought "maybe I should leave? Maybe there is more recognition, money and self fulfillment elsewhere?" She spent her days picking the rocks and thorns in the field, laying the foundation for the mission, sleeping little and trying to love and reach God's children.

The unreached people she was trying to love were demanding. The demands did not ease, day or night. Falling into bed exhausted, she wondered if her small tasks, the love she tried to show, was making a difference. Even the culture surrounding her was hostile towards her mission. "Come join us!" they cried, "there is so much out here that is more worthy of your time!" Some days, she saw the fruit beginning to bud, and the next day, tempers and trials abounded. She began to rely on God more and more, and He did not fail. She even began to understand Him more, and know His grace and love. Had she not herself slapped God away in her trials and tempers at times? Yet, He kept on loving her, and so, she would keep on loving others in her assigned mission field.

"May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ." 
~2 Thessalonians 3:5

Time went on, and she left more and more of the world behind. She left her youthful foolishness, silly ideas and ways of thought, and turned more and more to God. He is her strength, healer and guide--- keeps her going day after day in this tough mission field. He has taught her lessons---how to love the difficult, how to learn from Him, how to be His disciple. She has learned that, as her selfishness dies, she lives more fully, and as she serves those around her she lives in peace and finds abundant life. She truly knows Christ now, she has died to herself. She can't imagine going back to living for herself. This mission field is home to her and it is where she belongs. She walks the holy, old paths now, and they are serving her well.

"For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it." Luke 9:24 

She once had foolish, self-centered dreams. They would have led her closer to herself, leaving little room for God. She would have become almost buried in her own selfishness and pursuing things of the world that pass away. She would never have fully known or realized God's love. Seeing God's children grow and learn in their faith, hugging them through tears and failures---is this not what God has done for her? Rejoicing in the victories, and holding a hand through the trials.

Discouragement still sets in easily. The work is hard in this mission field, but her resolve is growing stronger. Tasks are repetitive, tiring. Lessons are repeated over and over. There is not much time to pursue "herself." During the day she is confronted with stubbornness, anger, tears and resistance. At night, there are always more tasks to be done, almost until the midnight hour. At the end of the day, tears threatening to fall, God comforts her.  "Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved." Psalm 55:22

There are many years still to go, decades left to minister in this field. They don't seem as endless and intimidating now. Strengthened by God, her path of life spent living for others, she has found real, true life. The life she lived before was a life of bondage. Trials, difficulties and uncertainties still come, life is not perfect. She wonders still, at times, if they will accept God and His ways? Will her work pass away and be for nothing? Yet she has a peace, and a confidence, that God does not abandon those who are faithful to Him. Through His grace, the seeds she planted in this mission field He will bring to harvest.

Where is this woman's mission field? The dangerous jungles of the Amazon? The mountains of China? A small, unreached people group on a small island? No, this woman's mission field is her home. Her husband and her children. She lives in this mission field every day, with no furlough. Few are willing to go live for years in this field, give their lives for this most important work, yet this mission field---home---is neglected and workers are needed by God. God's work needs to be done, and He needs dedicated and willing, loving hands. He needs His daughters to be faithful to Him and trust Him. He needs us to be Jesus' hands and feet to our families. He needs our hearts, our willingness, our sacrifice. If we don't, who will? He will not fail.

"By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
John 13:35

Prayer: "Lord, refine me, remake me. Show me how to be your "worker." Send me into your mission field and give me strength to persevere. Show me your love, and show me HOW to love others as you do. Remind me of your promises and that you will never leave me or forsake me. Give me strength for the hard days and reveal more of yourself to me. Amen."

"And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." Luke 10:2

"For God is not unjust. He will not forget how hard you have worked for him and how you have shown your love to him by caring for other believers, as you still do. Our great desire is that you will keep on loving others as long as life lasts, in order to make certain that what you hope for will come true. Then you will not become spiritually dull and indifferent. Instead, you will follow the example of those who are going to inherit God’s promises because of their faith and endurance." Hebrews 6:10-12



Thursday, August 21, 2014

Serving Self or Dying to Self? The Narrow Way...


"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."  John 12:24

Jesus walked the path of His life doing the Father's will. He obeyed, walking to the cross for us. He was a grain of wheat that fell, died and bore much fruit.  His life's message was serving, dying to self, and living the message of love. This is not a sacrifice to be taken lightly, or a way of life to be ignored. For Christians, it should be THE way of life.

"Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him." Romans 6:8

These days Christianity is not so much focused on dying to self, serving our families and loving others. There is a hyper-focus on attending "leadership seminars" "being your authentic self classes" and various other activities that activate strong emotions but leave no lasting, deep effect on our hearts for Christ. We leave them just as broken and confused as before because we are looking to the wrong source--activities---to heal us, forgetting that Christ died to heal us, if we will only turn to Him and Him alone, He will do His work in us.

"He must increase, but I must decrease.”John 3:30

As Jesus works in our lives, healing us, He shows us areas of our hearts that need mending and the areas that are to be crucified with Him. We leave behind the old focus on self, and we focus on Jesus and the work He has for us. This work is selfless and many times hard and difficult. Yet as we become the grain of wheat that falls to the earth and dies, we begin to bear fruit. Our selfishness dies, and Jesus reigns. Our actions begin to reflect this, and old sinful habits and thoughts begin to die away. 

"But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." Galations 6:14

God's ways are perfect and holy, they lead to a peaceful way of life. Serving ourselves and our own goals, a hyper focus on accomplishments and image, this is serving the idol we have made of ourselves, a golden calf that needs to be torn down. Focusing on ourselves leads to a lack of true fulfillment and peace because it will never satisfy the thirst we have for true meaning. Self bounces around from one thing to the next, feeling less and less satisfied and yet building up it's idols even bigger than before. 

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." 2 Corinthians 5:17 

The meaning we are searching for is found in Jesus death on the cross. He is our meaning, He is our guide, counselor, comforter, source of life. As we abide in Him, we find real and lasting meaning for this life and we have the hope of eternity. Dying to our selfishness, learning to serve, and walking the narrow path with Christ includes death to our old nature. Accepting Jesus into our lives is not a decision that produces instant gratification. He becomes Lord of our life and we live for Him. We begin to tread the life giving, narrow way with Christ.

"Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." John 15:4-5

As we abide in Christ, we learn to do the Father's will, and this becomes the goal of our life. Power, fame, fortune and accomplishments all fade into the background. This is how Christ lived, loving, serving, healing, and being God's instrument. As we follow Jesus in this way, we are promised joy that is lasting and doesn't fade away. This type of joy is mostly hidden and unknown to the world that tells us to seek after everything else to find it's false and fragile happiness. There is healing, life, joy and wisdom when we live God's way. He set the way for us so that we would find life, not search for years and years to find any path that "seems" to feel right.

"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.  If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full." John 15: 9-11

Abiding in Christ, walking the narrow way, listening to His voice, and dying to self, this is the path of abundant life. We serve others, not self, and know the fullness of what it is to believe in a Savior who died to self and was resurrected again to life. We should earnestly seek to enter the narrow gate and follow God's ways no matter the cost. Jesus did not say that "the gate is wide" because His ways are not the worlds ways; many do not want to put forth the effort to find them. The gate of selfishness is wide, many enter there and find death and decay. Jesus way leads to the only true life there is.

"Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many." Matthew 7:13

Prayer: "Jesus, be Lord of my life. Do your work in me, crucify my sin and wrong, selfish desires and attitudes. Show me your true path of life. Give me discernment and wisdom to stay on the path with you so that I am not swayed by lies. Show me the way of real, lasting life. Amen."

"And if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him." Romans 8:17

"But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God." Acts 20:24  

"Who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began..." 2 Timothy 1:9



Thursday, August 14, 2014

On Peace, Contentment, and Living Free In Jesus


"For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." 2 Corinthians 3:17


God's love brings freedom. We are free to walk the path God has for us; not chained to any of the worlds thinking or idols. It is a form of slavery to exclusively pursue our own interests, money, desires, dreams, 'keeping up with the Jones', or to pursue something because it is simply the norm of society.  We become locked into the system of 'service to self', which leads us to neglect loving and caring for others as God requires us. The enemy desires to ensnare us in his yoke of slavery. We must be diligent and know the love of Christ and His freedom to avoid the enemies deceitful ways.

"For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." Galations 5:1

The world's freedom is to pursue one's own interests, be comfortable in our lifestyle and have enough money. "If you get a good education, you will have freedom." "If you just plan enough, set enough goals, you will have freedom." "If you can reach the top in your career, you will have really made it!" While pursuing these things and accomplishing them can bring worthwhile benefits, God's true freedom is to love and serve, to trust Him, and to do His will. In pursuing and living in God's freedom, we find who we truly were made to be by our Creator. All of the other accomplishments are temporary, they don't free the heart. Those things still bind us to the world, instead of being slaves to God's way, righteousness.

"And, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness." Romans 6:18

 After doing many things deemed worthwhile and good, most people are no more free in their hearts than when they began them. Many times, we sink deeper into thought processes and values that ensnare the heart and mind. There is no true freedom for the heart and soul apart from the One who made us. He knows what we were made to be and in surrendering to Christ we find ourselves. We find peace because we are free from ourselves; we do the Father's will and we are no longer bound to serve two masters.

"For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another." Galations 5:13 

We live truly free when we know Jesus' peace and contentment, when we rest in Him and are free to walk with Him, abide with Him, and have a heart that freely listens and obeys. He walks ahead, guiding us on the path; we follow and our heart is freed. Christ's true freedom is the freedom to love and serve without our own ego getting in the way. As we love and serve, we come closer to the heart of Jesus.

"The paradox of faith is that when we conform our lives to Christ then we gain our true freedom. And its fruit is profound and lasting happiness." -Vincent Nichols
  "So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." John 8:36

Don't be fooled by all the books, shows, and other sources telling us what it takes to live 'free'. True freedom for the heart, soul and mind, freedom for our earthly lives and eternal souls is only found in the One who laid Himself down for us, Jesus. He sacrificed His life so we may get a foretaste of the freedom that will come to it's full glory in Heaven. Let us seek after this, praying for God to reveal the areas of our hearts still in chains so that we may walk in freedom.

"Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God." 1 Peter 2:16 

There is no scripture passage that ever describes pursuing our own dreams and desires as the end goal for this life. Most of us are taught from a young age that those are to be pursued, yet not taught to prayerfully ask God what He has for our lives. God certainly gives us dreams, He plants them in our hearts, and those are the ones to be prayed over and pursued. They are the ones that further His kingdom and give Him glory. All areas of our lives, finances, hobbies, career, families, and relationships, these are all designed by God to glorify and honor Him. When we make it a priority to honor God in these things, it is His love and grace that shows us His true freedom.

Seeking first God and His righteousness, pursuing Jesus, these bring true freedom. The world offers false freedom, when the veil is torn off it is revealed to be lies. Jesus offers the only true and lasting freedom that exists, and the only freedom that will never die.

"But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." Matthew 6:33

Prayer: "Lord, open my eyes to your real, lasting freedom. Reveal the things I am doing, taking part in, or accepting that are not your true freedom. Free my heart and mind from bondage, to breath the fresh air of truth that you offer. Open my mind, my heart, my thought life to the things that are holy and righteous. I want to live in your freedom, give me the will to be steadfast and allow you to break the chains in my life. Amen."

"Pervading nationalism imposes its dominion on man today in many different forms and with an aggressiveness that spares no one. The challenge that is already with us is the temptation to accept as true freedom what in reality is only a new form of slavery." -Pope John Paul II

"But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life." Romans 6:22  

"How often I have found that we grow to maturity not by doing what we like, but by doing what we should. How true it is that not every 'should' is a compulsion, and not every 'like' is a high morality and true freedom." -Karl Rahner

Thursday, August 7, 2014

When Christ Clothes the Heart


"And all of you, dress yourselves in humility as you relate to one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” ~1 Peter 5:5

As we come to know Christ, we awaken to the fact that He clothes the heart with His sacrifice, His humility, His meekness and righteousness. As the heart and mind are changed, renewed and transformed, this new "inner clothing" should begin to reflect on the outside.  We are a reflection of the One who has given us new life. Dressing oneself in 'meekness' and 'humility' is not on the runways of the fashion shows, or pursued by many today.

Jesus said in His sermon on the mount "blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." Matthew 5:5 

Simpleness, being down to earth, modest, not haughty or prideful, patient and submissive to our Father in heaven are not qualities we are taught to cultivate, yet meekness is one that Jesus speaks of and is described as personifying.  "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls." Matthew 11:29 

Showing off, being prideful and "putting on airs" to others only exhausts us. Trying to be something we are not in our insecurities and clothing ourselves to reflect an image on the outside does not give rest to the heart and soul. Gently being clothed in Christ brings His true rest. We are no longer trying to rely on any of our own efforts and striving, but we can rest in the love of God and sit at Christ's feet, with His yoke upon us. We don't have to 'prove' ourselves to Him, He sacrificed for us and has adopted us into His family. "But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." 1 Corinthians 6:11

Now clothed on the inside, that grace should begin to show outwardly. When clothed only on the outside we are prone to be haughty---vain, conceited, self important, and superior. We are not to be full of ourselves and our own inflated individuality, as if that makes us worthy of "worship" or positive treatment from others.

"Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious." 1 Peter 3:3-4

The way we carry ourselves, dress and the heart attitude we are clothed with inside is a witness to those we are around. We are reflecting the salvation that renews hearts, and a gentle and humble Savior. Do we look like the world on the outside, as if no inner change has occurred? Being truly aware of Christ's loving sacrifice means that the focus is no longer on ourselves, but His beauty shining outwardly. His beauty is not known to this world, or trending in the fashion magazines.  

We don't want to be like the Pharisees, outwardly reflecting pompousness, but empty inside. 
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness." Matthew 23:27

Moses, one of God's great leaders who guided the Israelite's out of Egypt and who spoke with God directly, is described possessing the quality of meekness. "Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth." Numbers 12:3

 Neither was Jesus brash or loud, nor did He carry himself as if He was showing off who He was. He relied on God to do that, He knew His reward was in heaven. Meekness is opposite to the loud and brash wisdom of man. God's wisdom is opposite of ours; it contradicts the world.

"Look at my servant, whom I strengthen. He is my chosen one, who pleases me. I have put my Spirit upon him. He will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or raise his voice in public. He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle..." Isaiah 42:1-3

When Christ clothes the heart and we live in grace, we are no longer 'slaves'---tied to reflecting any of the worlds values. We are Christ's, clothed in His freedom, love and humility.  We can adorn ourselves with His righteousness and salvation. We find peace as we no longer seek our own prideful way, but the way of God.

"But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace." Psalm 37:11

Prayer: "Lord, teach and show me your ways, make me aware of your clothing me on the inside. Give me wisdom to reject the immodest fashions of the day, the ones that reflect selfishness and not you. May my striving be for you, and not to look like the world, caught up in it's pride and fleeting vanity. Show me how to reflect you on the outside, clothed with your grace and righteousness. Amen."

"The meek also shall increase their joy in the Lord, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel." Isaiah 29:19