All That Was Needed

“I cannot do this!” I cried out,
And to this I heard no reply.
“I failed again!” did I shout,
But God did not answer why.
Angered now and so full of shame
That not good enough was my best,
I stormed off cursing my name
And knowing I’d failed God’s test.
“What you want from me I don’t know!
Nor do I think I have it to give;
I need to let this burden go
For this way I cannot live.
I tried to live, God, by your rule;
I failed, I sinned so many times.
And being human, hence, a fool,
I repeated one by one my crimes.
I tried to witness but cannot speak
Your truth in a way they would hear;
I’d be on missions, but am so weak
And crippled still by my fear.
I cannot do this!” I cried out,
And this time my cry was heeded.
“I know,” God said, “Without a doubt;
But your heart was all that was needed.”

Advertisements

Easy Christianity, Part 2

On Friday, I posted about how easy we have it in the U.S. and most other developed countries. Our idea of persecution is when the courts don’t allow a U.K. couple to adopt because they won’t tell their kid that being gay is an acceptable lifestyle or people shunning us because of our beliefs. The idea of being dragged out of our homes and beheaded sounds like a nightmare. I think this lack of persecution is one of the things that keeps many people from taking their Christianity seriously.

But it’s not the only thing. Most of the Christians I know, myself included, haven’t really attempted much for God. I’ve written a few books, but my marketing efforts have been half-hearted at best. I’ve spoken a few times to small church groups, but haven’t really pursued bringing any message before the church as a whole. And a lot of my friends go to church, go to lunch afterward, hang out the rest of the day, then live a very normal life Monday through Friday. They may refrain from hooking up on dates or smoking pot or lying, but their lives and mine are easy. Try to live a standard life with God at our side to help us when we need Him, but don’t rock the boat. Don’t ask Him for growth, don’t ask Him for help on a daily basis to shine as lights in the darkness, and certainly don’t ask Him for a calling so big that you can’t possibly do it without Him.

What if we did?

What if, when we woke up, our first thought was a prayer that our day would have at least one situation that we can’t make it through in God’s way without Him? What if we were to pray for a peace that passes all understanding, knowing full well that the exhibition of such a peace would require us being in such a situation that the peace makes no sense?

What if we weren’t satisfied with living the same lives, with the same goals and just a few less sins, as those who aren’t Christians?

I know that not everyone is called to make the same splash that Billy Graham has had. Not everyone will write the next “Crazy Love”. Yet how many are called to make more of an impact than they have? How many could be used by God, even to the extent Billy Graham and Francis Chan have, if they would only give up their own ends for God’s purpose? And, calling aside, how much stronger could everyone’s faith be (and the church as a whole be) if they were to pray for opportunities to grow their faith?

Veterans can vouch that being in a foxhole with someone creates a strong bond in most cases. When your life is in their hands and vice versa, when you face the enemy together, camaraderie is natural. Would the church likewise grow stronger if we were to pray that God would send each other opportunities to grow? Or if we were to share our struggles with our brothers and sisters so they can pray for us and we for them?

What if the weaknesses of our Christianity and our church could be solved by simply praying that God helps us do something harder for Him?

A week or two ago, I challenged people to pray for growth in their lives. This is a similar challenge: to pray that God would give you a calling you can’t accomplish without Him. It may not have a major impact in your eyes; it may only touch one person and even then, you might not see the results. But I believe only half the purpose of any calling is to help others; the other half is to grow closer to God yourself. What if that was our top priority? Our Christianity would certainly get harder, but it would finally be a Christianity worth having.

Time to Serve

Yogi Berra was once asked by a teammate, “Yogi, what time is it?” Yogi responded, “You mean now?”

I’ve been in a hurry for much of my life. At work, I seem to always take on more than can be handled in a 40-hour work week. During my last semester in college, I was taking 16 hours, working a part-time job, working as an Academic Peer Advisor (something like a floor tutor), tutoring students in math, accounting, and finance, and studying for the CPA exam, which I had to take just four days after graduating. 

Yet after I quit my last job and found myself with a lot of time on my hands in which to serve God, I didn’t serve Him more than a few hours a month most of the time. I spent that time on myself. To be fair, a little time at the beginning was fair enough, but after a week of R&R, I should have been ready to go. I wrote because I believe He called me to write, but what I wrote wasn’t Christian. I was wasting a lot of time.

Part of it was that I didn’t know what to write for Him. He hadn’t told me yet, though that’s likely because I made myself too busy with friends and computer games to pay attention. In hindsight, I should have just served anyway. 

A lot of Christians seem to be waiting for their calling, as though there’s going to be a burning bush telling them where to go and what to do. It could happen that way or another blatant way, but God’s voice seems to be more often a whisper and His calling understated. When Jesus called certain of His disciples, it was without any miracles, just an invitation to follow Him, such as He gave to Matthew. 

Your calling, your purpose in life, is to love and serve God above all and to love others as you love yourself.

When Jesus called Matthew, He didn’t tell the tax collector what he’d be doing. He didn’t say, “Come with me and be a martyr,” or, “Join me and preach my new covenant to all the nations.” He only told Matthew to follow Him. The specific way in which Matthew was to serve was revealed after Matthew trusted in God and was willing to serve in whatever way Jesus wanted. 

When we wait, we often do what we want while waiting for our specific calling. Instead, we should be following Jesus, just being in His presence, learning about Him and from Him, and preparing our hearts so that when He is ready to use us, we are ready to be used. There may be a time, such as Esther had, for which we were created, but our time to serve and fulfill our main calling is always right now. There is no waiting to serve or hear direction. Love God. Love others. Just that simple.

Call Waiting

Another thing I had wanted to post on from Sunday’s sermon was the point that we will all stand individually before God. But delivering that point is not what I’m led to do. It’s what God told our pastor, Gary Wilkerson, to do. What I’m being led to do is write about how people change and I’ve already written about confidence and forgiveness. Pastor Wilkerson is called to teach God’s grace.

Neither of our callings is more important or better than the other’s. God gives to each as He sees fit and He doesn’t demand certain results from us, just that we do our best to serve and honor Him. In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus tells the Parable of the Talents, in which a wealthy man gives one servant five talents, another two, and the last one. The first two both double the money entrusted to them. They get the same reward and same praise from the master. The second servant didn’t seem to be worried that he didn’t gain five talents. He knew he had done his best and was faithful with what had been entrusted to him.

We have a tendency to be jealous of others. “The grass is always greener on the other side,” after all. Unfortunately, we can do this with other people’s callings as well. Even Peter wasn’t immune to it. When Jesus told him how he’d die, Peter was apparently jealous of John, even though it doesn’t seem he knew what would happen to John (John 21:18-21).

A large part of our walk is learning to be content with the walk He has planned for us. There may be death, disease, sorrows, riches, pain, joy, laughter, tears, marriage, children, crushing defeats, heartache, or any other good or bad thing. Your calling may be what you consider small and unimportant. If it is, maybe that’s God’s way of telling you that you must kill your ego to serve Him. If it’s in front of millions, perhaps God has much to teach you from the feedback of so many. In His eyes, though, all of these are really the same because all of them boil down to one simple question and your answer to it:

Will you serve Him with your whole heart?

The Results are In

I’ve been writing quite a bit lately about how to go about starting a real change in your life. I believe that everyone has a change they should work on, whether that’s a moral or personality issue like losing their temper too easily, an addiction like gambling, or simply a way to improve their lives. Rooting out the bad habits and starting good ones is a wonderful thing. Changing your heart is much better still.

The best changes, though, are the God-inspired and God-aided ones.

One thing God has been dealing with me on is my motivations for writing. I have to admit that there’s a part of me that wants to make a fair deal of money from the books. Part of me wants to go into a bookstore and see what I’ve written on the shelves. The former is based in part on a desire to support my wife, myself, and our future children, but both are based in large part on ego.

There are two problems with this. The first is that it’s wrong to use God’s work for your glory. God doesn’t exist to honor you; you exist to honor Him. He doesn’t owe you anything, even if you give your life and everything else you have to Him, because He has already given His infinitely more valuable life for you. God often chooses to bless those who serve Him well because He loves us, but He owes us absolutely nothing. If you’re using your calling to honor yourself, God will not be in your work. You may become wealthy and famous, but you won’t be blessed by God, and His gifts are always better for you in the end.

Second, you can’t control the results. In 1 Corinthians 3:6-7, Paul says, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.” God gives each of us a calling in life, but rarely does He tell us the outcome. Jeremiah and Ezekiel were called to warn people of God’s wrath and impending punishment. A few people listened, but it seems they were largely disregarded. The fact that they were ignored does not mean that God was not with them, though. It does not mean they did anything wrong or didn’t give it their best effort. It was not on them to ensure results, only to obey God in what He bid them.

Whatever your calling is, whether it’s to talk to one person one time and plant a seed in their heart that will eventually lead them to Christ though you never see it, or to become the next Billy Graham, preaching to millions worldwide, God will not demand specific results of you. He just wants your obedience. It is on Him to provide the results.

As one last point, keep in mind that His idea of success almost certainly differs from yours. For example, as my wife sometimes has to remind me, if God had me write my books to reach only one person, and that person got the books, then He’ll consider my ministry a raging success. All the effort I’ve put into writing, editing, and getting them out won’t guarantee my definition of success, nor His if I do it with a wrong heart. All I can do is serve Him willingly and wait for His results to come in.

Eating the Scroll, Part 2

The other side of that verse in Ezekiel 2 is that God sent Ezekiel to warn the Israelites because of their idolatry. They had forsaken God and were worshiping the queen of heaven, inciting God to anger. God, however, was patient with them, sending prophet after prophet to them to warn them of what would happen, that they might return to Him and He could relent.

For years, God held off on His judgment of Israel and Judah. There were a few good kings here and there, but it seems the majority were rotten, leading the people into idolatry. Yet God waited and tried to get them to repent. When they failed enough times, God caused them to be conquered and taken captive.

There are a couple points to this. First, don’t be discouraged that some people who have idols in their lives, such as sex, money, or power, seem to be getting all the lucky breaks. Their day is coming. We shouldn’t rejoice in that, though; we should warn these people of what will happen if they don’t turn to God. Even if their judgment doesn’t come until they die, that judgment is eternal and horrible.

Second, don’t worship idols yourself. In biblical times, they had names like Baal and Ra. In our times, we have subtler versions, but they’re idols all the same. Whether it’s another deity or something you’re just putting your hopes of happiness in, the worship of anything other than God is truly the worship of yourself. Even praying to God without worshiping Him and submitting to Him is worship of yourself.

I have, as I recently mentioned, made an idol of getting my books published. So long as that is the case, I cannot expect God to honor or bless me in my ventures. I have repented, and now I need to get my focus on God and view His work for my life in the right light. Please pray for me if you remember. I’ll be praying for you.

Eating the Scroll

I try to read through the Bible every year. Right now, I’m just beginning Ezekiel and I was reading chapter 2 the other day when one part of verse 8 stood out, “Do not be rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.” In Ezekiel’s vision, God then gave him a scroll of His words to eat and told him his calling.

There are two parts to this: that we be satisfied with and obedient to our calling and that we not be rebellious idol worshipers as the Israelites then were.

In John 21, Jesus tells Peter how he will die. Peter then points to John and says, “Well, what about him?” Jesus says, essentially, “That’s not your concern. If I will that he lives until I return, that’s My business.” Peter wasn’t very happy to be told he’d be crucified (who would be?), but God had a plan for his life that would bring Him glory. By the time Peter was sentenced, his request wasn’t that they just end him more quickly, but that they hang him upside down because he wasn’t worthy to die as his Lord did. God changed him that much more when he accepted God’s calling on his life.

Jeremiah said that he was too young to be a prophet of God, but God told him that He would be with him and protect him. Jeremiah may not have had a happy life in our terms, never marrying and doing some odd things at God’s command, but God watched out for him all his days because he obeyed God.

I don’t know what your calling is. I don’t know if following it will make you rich, make you poor, cause you to be a missionary to China, or cause you to die a martyr. I don’t know what benefits it will have or what it will cost you. Neither do I know what will happen to you in terms of earthly comforts if you reject your calling.

Here’s what I do know: following God’s call on your life will always lead to more peace and a deeper relationship with Him. I used to have lots of money, friends, respect, career potential, and more, but I hated God. Now that I’m in His calling, I’m happier and enjoy greater security than I ever did without Him.