Looking around the world today, it seems that each new sunrise brings word of a new political uprising. Almost without fail, these demonstrations turn violent and people are killed and wounded. Oppressive regimes grow in power and the persecution of Christians grows more frequent and violent with each day. European nations have all but abandoned the way of Jesus, and exchanged it for a life of relativism, cynicism and ultimately hopelessness. In America, a nation once considered the shining light of the world, we see a downward spiral of respect for authority and for God. The whole world has seemingly gone crazy, and perhaps we should expect nothing less from a planet that has abandoned its Creator to seek selfish pleasure and gain.
Archives for February 2011
Remember when we were kids how we had dreams of the person we wanted to be when we grew up? Some dreams were based on what our parents did, some were based on what we saw on television or in the movies, and still others were inspired by our comic books. As we grew older, the fantastical dreams of youth began to fade and were replaced with less imaginative dreams that we deemed possible. Once we entered adulthood our focus shifted to those dreams that would make us the most money or secure the lifestyle we wanted to live. Many of us simply stopped dreaming all together. Our dreams became swallowed up in the drudgery and responsibilities of everyday tasks. Life came calling and we sacrificed the aspirations of our youth on the altar of rational expectations. We became what we were expected to be, rather than who we were created to be.
Is this all there is? Is this the abundant life that Jesus promised to those who would follow Him? Where in Scripture are we commanded to pursue the things of this world in order that we might obtain a more comfortable lifestyle? What I see instead is a challenge to live life with a faith so focused on Christ that we don’t worry about what we will eat or drink, or about what we will wear (Matthew 6:31-33); loving God with all of our heart, soul and mind is what drives us forward each day, the beauty that compels us to serve others for His glory (Matthew 22:37-38). We are commanded to love God and love people. Within this context we find all we will ever desire from life. As we set out to serve those around us we rediscover creative means to utilize long hidden gifts and passions. Each of us were created to do good works for the purposes of Christ (Ephesians 2:10). As we fulfill those purposes we find ourselves discovering true abundance in life.
The dreams of our youth were placed inside us to inspire thoughts of what could be accomplished in the world if we would only dare to believe. Too many of us let others talk us out of the possible in order that we might pursue only the probable. There was nothing ordinary about the way Jesus lived His life, nor is there anything mundane about the life He calls each of us to live. We are called to love and to serve in extraordinary ways. The actions in which we engage on Christ’s behalf need not necessarily be some grandiose demonstration; rather, simple acts of kindness and service can have an impact beyond our wildest dreams. A simple smile for one who is normally overlooked can change the course of their life forever. Taking just a moment to make eye contact with a homeless person, to share a kind word or a couple of dollars may convince them there is a reason to go on. It may communicate to them that they are loved by someone and perhaps this would be the catalyst that allows them to encourage others or even to set a new course for their life. One moment, one smile, and you can alter a life forever.
Just as all actions need not be huge in the grand scheme of things, sometimes we must engage in the utterly absurd in order to live out the mission of Christ. Perhaps there would be no hunger in the world if we would simply stop being obsessed with our salaries and 401(k) plans. Maybe it’s time we let go of the things we perceive to be our security in this world, throw caution to the wind and recklessly devote ourselves to an impossibly big challenge just to see what God might do with our leap of faith. Whether we are compelled to deceptively small or extravagantly large acts of service, together we will discover the life we were created to live, and together we will further the mission of Christ.
What dreams have you long ago abandoned in order to live what most would perceive to be a responsible life? What passions have you buried so that you might fall in line with the expectations of culture and society? Jesus didn’t call us to be part of the status quo; He called us to live a life that looks like His. He called us to follow Him. What might become of our lives if we returned to the imagination of our youth? How might we creatively discover fantastic new ways to serve others and reflect His love to the world at large? What have you left behind that should be retrieved and used for His glory?
Our only true responsibility is to become the person He created us to be. I encourage you to let go of the expectations of others, the opinions that confine you in a life of mediocrity. Embrace the work He created you to do; shine with the passion He placed inside you to accomplish all He has put before you. In this way you will find the abundant life; in this way you will discover what it truly means to be His hands and His feet in a world that cries out for the love of Jesus. Rediscover and start living your dreams today. Do it for the world, and do it for His glory.
Somehow we lost our way. At some point in time we decided that the things of this world were more beneficial than the things of God. We traded eternity for temporal, spiritual for material. Inexplicably we lost our awe of God and in turn became enamored with ourselves. I’m not sure exactly when it happened or what we possibly could have been thinking; I only know that we now find ourselves mired deep in the mess of the results. God spoke, we heard, and we ignored; instead we listened to the siren song of the American dream. We saw that it was desirable and we took of it, just as our oldest ancestors did in the Garden of Eden. We have learned little in the past six thousand years or so, and yet God continues to call us to Him.
Our modern apples of temptation are money and pleasure. We seek to fulfill the longing in our hearts with physical instead of spiritual means. At our core we are created in God’s image which means deep inside we are spirit beings. One cannot fill the spiritual with the physical; it simply will not work. The only way to fill the deep gnawing in your soul is to seek what is important to God, those things that further His kingdom on earth. No amount of wealth, fame or entertainment can satisfy the hunger inside. Only by surrendering to Jesus and living a life of service to Him will we find any peace and comfort for our longings.
We have been conditioned to believe that happiness is based on what we achieve and acquire. Jesus taught instead that true meaning is found only through how we serve and sacrifice. Instead of hoarding for ourselves, we are to share with anyone in need. Rather than do whatever it takes to get ahead, we must humbly put others before our own desires and dreams. This is the only goal worth pursuing, because this goal leads to the life found only in Jesus Christ. We can’t achieve our way to Heaven, nor can we reach there by climbing up our pile of stuff. The way to Heaven is the way of Jesus; His is the way of humility and service to others.
We all have dreams, passions and abilities; it is not that we must put these aside, but rather we must use them to achieve the purposes of Jesus rather than our own aspirations. Of course, it is a beautiful thing when our dreams align with His. This is where our life begins to resemble that of Christ; we begin to want what He wants, and to act and love as He does. We are all uniquely gifted and prepared for accomplishing good works for God, but we will not live out our calling as long as we continue to pursue the wrong goal. The goal is not the American dream but rather the mission of Christ. The goal is to give rather than get, to serve rather than be served. This is what it looks like to follow Jesus; this is the mark to which we must all aspire.
We have a lot to unlearn. All our lives we have been taught to grab all that we can, to chase after all we deserve. As a reminder, the Bible teaches that what we deserve is a life spent separated from God, an eternity in hell. Do you really wish to chase after what you deserve? By the grace of God we have an alternative way; we can choose to follow Him and obtain a life that is far beyond what we deserve, a life filled with His love and mercy. It is not an easy life, but it is one of infinite worth and satisfaction. Turning your back on the American dream will be difficult; you will be ridiculed and perhaps even cut off from your friends and family. No longer will you want what others want; no longer will you live life for yourself. The reward is beyond words. Only when you let go of all you think you want will you truly find what you’ve been seeking.
Are you ready to pursue the mission of Christ? Can you let go of the goal of the American dream, the seeking of wealth and entertainment? Jesus said there was much work to be done but few willing to engage in it. We have been squandering daylight and the night is coming. Darkness continues to invade our world and we must fight back with the light of the love of Jesus. We must pursue Christ at any cost. Our mission is straightforward and clear: love God and love people; serve God and serve people. Are your goals in line with God’s? Are you pursuing things of eternal worth? Or are you seeking that which you cannot keep, clutching to what you must leave behind? Jesus is the only way to peace and fulfillment. Pursue Him with all that you have; make Him your sole focus. This is the only goal worth achieving.
Many of us grew up with the perception that missions was the work of a select few who would work among the people in foreign countries and tell them about God. These missionaries were a group of super-Christians who marched to the beat of a different drummer and somehow seemed to always have a slide projector in their back pocket. Daron Earlewine, one of the pastors at my fellowship, recently said something I found quite challenging. He said that we have gotten it all wrong, and that we need to drop the “s” off of missions so all we are left with is the word “mission”. This is not for a select few; there is no such class as a super-Christian. For too long we have sat idly by watching others carry out the great commission, going out into all the world while we have sat huddled within the glow of our televisions and the warmth of our homes. If we would be followers of Jesus, we must walk out our front door and into the world. We must tell people about the love of Jesus and invite them to receive the baptism of His Spirit into their lives so they too can experience the love of Christ and join in His mission.
Everyone has a mission field; everyone is called, but few respond. The usual objection is that there are enough hurting people around us, so we do not need to go to foreign countries. Jesus said to go out into the entire world, and it’s true that your street is part of that world. The question then becomes, how are you carrying out the mission of Jesus in the place in which you live? If we grant that we don’t have to go into the diverse places of the planet, that we need to serve those in our immediate surroundings, then much is expected of us right where we are. It has been my experience that those who say they don’t need to go out because there is so much work to be done all around them, never seem to get to doing that work. Once satisfied with their excuse, they are content to once again insulate themselves from the very need to which they drew attention. We are all called to tell everyone about the love of Jesus; no exemptions have been granted. There are no exceptions to serving others in His name. It’s true that we all have different gifts and abilities, but every one of us can be a reflection of the love of God. Every one of us can point others to Christ.
Jesus came to earth with the mission of redeeming a sinful and flawed people. He came to serve those who were proud, to touch those who were sick and to feed those who were hungry. He came to show compassion to the weak and suffering, to bring justice to the abused and outcast. This is the mission of Jesus, the one He commanded His followers to continue to carry out when He ascended into Heaven. Two thousand years later we have relegated His command to a select few out of selfishness and convenience. We have convinced ourselves that it is the work of someone else to go and share the love of Christ to those who have never heard his name. Meanwhile we stew in our affluence, bathing in our own self righteousness, convinced if we will simply write a check every so often that we have fulfilled our duty before the Lord. God does not need your money, He needs your life. When we gave our hearts to Jesus, we surrendered our life to Him; we gave up all our dreams and aspirations so that we might pursue His plan for the world. At some point we turned away from our convictions and have decided that the American dream is more worth pursuing than the Kingdom of God; how foolish, and how ridiculous is that to actually admit? Are we seriously convinced that anything on this earth is worth more than the smallest piece of Heaven?
Jesus died for your sins and for mine; He suffered for you and for me. We – each one of us who have accepted Christ – have chosen to follow Him and to do the things He told us to do. If we are serious about following Jesus, then our life is no longer our own. We are now His hands and His feet, and our passion is solely for Him. To follow the instructions of Christ must be our driving passion; it’s what makes us come alive. Jesus said to take the message of His love into the entire world. This is more than just missions work for a few; this is the mission for us all.
I’ve spent most of my life living in America and can say without a doubt that I have been blessed beyond measure to have done so. I’ve never known true hunger and have always had a roof over my head to sleep. I’ve lived in relative safety and never run out of clothes. Sitting down to a meal, no matter how small, is a luxury so many have never known. What I take for granted, others cannot even fathom. I am not anti-American or anti-capitalism; I have enjoyed the fruits of both. As a follower of Christ, however, I am anti-greed and anti-hoarding. With all the blessings we have received, how can we but help to pass them along?
We who seek to follow Jesus desire to reach out to others in love. We long for them to know of His saving mercy and grace, and the best witness we can give them is through the demonstration of God’s love in our own lives. It’s one thing to tell someone the truth, but an entirely different matter to live out that truth. When we demonstrate the love of Christ in the way we live, others will be curious and drawn to us. Nothing compels like love; nothing repels like indifference. No matter how unlovable an individual may appear, all people have needs and as ambassadors of Christ it is our responsibility to serve them.
Take nothing for granted in your life. Practice being grateful for all the blessings you have received and then use those moments of gratitude to spur you to action. Take an extra thirty seconds to pray over your food before you eat; I assure you it will still be there when you are finished praying. Concentrate on how privileged you are to be able to have a hot, nutritious meal practically anytime you want one; recognize that more than half of the world does not share this privilege. Pray for those who do not share in your blessing of food. In the emotion of that moment, determine some way you can help alleviate hunger in the world. World Vision has a wonderful collection of ways in which you can provide food for those in need. You could sponsor a child through Compassion International, or perhaps donate to your local food bank. Consider sharing several meals each month with a stranger; if not inviting someone to physically be there, take the money you would have spent on the extra food and donate it to an organization that can minister to those beyond your reach. In this way you can share your blessings with those in need.
You can apply the principles above to any area that you currently take for granted. When you pour a glass of water for yourself, remember those who have no access to clean water and are dying from the parasites they have ingested drinking from their filthy water supply. Get involved with ministries like Living Water International or donate to the “100 Wells Campaign” of Persecution Project. Take a couple of cases of bottled water downtown in your city and hand them out to those who are homeless. Consider ways you can act in kind whenever you get dressed, get in the car, go to the grocery store, or take a hot shower – anything and everything you now take for granted. As we begin to pray for and relate to those who are less fortunate than ourselves, we will begin to understand and relate to their situation. We will find our hearts broken by their circumstances. We will find our hearts breaking over the injustices in the world, and seek out effective and creative ways to help. Our lives will begin to look like Jesus.
I challenge you to try out the above suggestions. Over the next thirty days, choose just one or two areas you currently take for granted, and focus on being grateful for it. Pray for those who are not blessed in the way you are, and then take a tangible step to do something about the inequity. If God has blessed you to live in a country that allows you to live in freedom and luxury compared to the majority of the world, then you – like me – have a great responsibility to share our wealth with others. We are commanded to love others as Jesus loves them; what better way to fulfill that command than by living out that love in a way that shares our blessings with them? Be grateful in all things, and then turn your gratitude into action by serving others with tangible acts of love. Love God and love people; never take for granted that with which you have been blessed.