Monday, October 29, 2012

Meeting real needs

Matthew 9:35  "Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the Good News of the Kingdom and healing every disease and sickness."

If we were in a position to do one thing and only one thing for a person, we would focus on the most important thing we were capable of doing for them.  The clear answer to this is to share the Gospel and hopefully open a door for the Holy Spirit to come into their heart. 

Often, though, people have barriers that prevent us from jumping straight to the eternally important message of grace and salvation.  These barriers can be very basic human needs, such as food, clothing and shelter.  It can be sickness or disease. 

While these conditions in and of themselves pale in comparison to the importance of the Gospel message, they can be critically important to that person at that particular time.  If a child is hungry or feels unsafe, the best educational environment or opportunity in the world will be meaningless to them because they aren't focused on it (or can't focus on it.)

Jesus recognized His dual service role.  He could meet their immediate needs as they saw them (sickness and disease to be healed), in preparation for meeting their biggest need as He saw it (eternal life.) 

Many times we attempt to convince others that what they interpret as being their biggest and/or most important needs are really unimportant in relation to what we see as their biggest and/or most important needs.  The interaction between us turns into an argument over the validity of needs versus meeting those needs. 

A person's perception is their reality.  Some perceptions are false, and we should speak truth into a person's life.  But we also have to meet them where they are.  We will never lead someone to a different place with a different focus if we simply lament over where they are starting from, how we believe they should be at a different place than they are, and wondering why they are wrestling with the things they are wrestling with.

Do all that you can to meet the immediate needs that a person perceives to be most important.  This will lay a foundation for helping them see their needs as you might see them.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Two paths

Proverbs 16:25  "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death."

Oh how following our own best laid plans can lead us into trouble.  When I say "our" best laid plans, I'm talking about times where we take the reins of life or of a particular situation and steer it in the direction that seems best for us and us alone.  This is very different than taking our options to God in prayer and seeking His will.

In the end, both paths may look the same- we have to make a choice and take some action.  But the position in our heart is very different.  With a heart that truly wants to be in alignment with God's will (at least as best as we can discern His will at the time), God will honor that.

Honoring doesn't always mean that the choice in and of itself will be successful.  He is still sovereign and is under no obligation to bless us.  But if we continue to seek His will and ask for guidance and wisdom, He will work all things for ultimate good. 

"Ultimate good" is defined in His terms, not ours.  Our job is to trust and follow as best we can, and God is in charge of the ultimate results.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

I may not always know what I'm doing, but I know the God who is there with me

Joel 2:26  "You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will My people be shamed."

A few months ago I embarked on the next phase of my professional career.  After much thought and prayer, Sara and I decided to pursue an opportunity that God had brought to us on two different occasions.  The opportunity has its upside and has aspects that appeal to me/us for one reason or another.  But the opportunity is not without risk.  The risk was real to us both, and was difficult to overcome in reaching a decision. 

The conclusion we reached is that the status quo is not void of risk, but is simply the risk that we know.  At one time, though, we viewed what had become the status quo as risky, like we have viewed other choices as risky at the time we made them.  But many of those seemingly risky choices don't look so risky in hindsight, and we can see the good that came from many of those decisions.  Even those decisions that didn't work out as we had hoped they would have been blessings in terms of what we have learned and how we have grown.

God has worked for good in all of our circumstances, and He will continue to do so if we seek Him and His Will.  Making the decision we made was not based on reaching an overwhelming peace and calm about it.  We had both hoped to reach that point and waited for it in hopes of knowing for sure that this is what God wanted us to do and the direction He wanted us to go.  It would have been safer and more convenient that way, but God doesn't always give us that reassurance.  Sometimes He actually wants us to trust Him.

While I am still learning and getting comfortable with the details of the environment I am now in, I already have first-hand experience with the God who is in this with us.  I know that He will always provide.  I know that He is using this to teach and guide Sara and I in our walk with Him.  I know that He has placed things on our hearts for a reason, and we try to be obedient to those promptings.  If a prompting is based on some desire of the flesh, I know He will cleanse me of it if I ask Him and then allow Him to do so.

I know that past choices, whether resulting in success or failure, have all resulted in growth.  I will stay faithful to Him as best I know how, knowing all along that He will be faithful to my family and I.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Student and teacher

Proverbs 4:1-2  "Listen, my sons, to a father's instruction; pay attention and gain understanding.  I give you sound learning, so do not forsake my teaching."

These words could just as easily come from our father to us, or from us to our sons/children.  The Christian life casts all of us in the dual roles of disciple and discipler, student and teacher.  We seek wisdom for our own sake, to live a life that is pleasing and glorifying to God.

Seeking wisdom, however, is not a purely selfish pursuit.  To whom much is given, much is expected.  Those who pursue and gain wisdom have a dual responsibility to use it and pass it on.  It is sometimes easier to see ourselves in the role of student, seeking only to acquire wisdom. 

Many of us can't see ourselves in the role of teacher.  The most common reason is because we think we don't know enough to teach someone else.  This feeling can stem from humility (real or fake) or fear.  Regardless of the feelings, we are commanded to serve in this capacity, to pass along what we do know while God continues to teach us more.

Knowing everything is not a prerequisite to teaching.  We will never cease being a student, so we can't put off being a teacher.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Past is Prologue

1 Corinthians 10: 11, 13  "Now these things happened to them as examples, and they were written as a warning to us, on whom the ends of the ages have come...No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity..."

Some people love history and some do not.  Those who love it are generally a believer in the statement, "Those who don't know history are bound to repeat it."  Those who don't like history might argue that the world is a different place today, and what happened in the past has no instructive value to help us now.

The difference in those who love history and those who don't might also lie in an underlying belief that events are interconnected (our history determines our future) or that events are unrelated, random occurrences of luck or chance.

I fall more in line with the former position, and believe history is valuable in dealing with the present and the future.  Although the specifics of today's world are different than the past, the motivations and failings of humans are timeless.

There are no new temptations or problems today that catch God by surprise and send Him scrambling to develop a response or solution.  As Solomon said, there is nothing new under the sun.  The surface level mechanism by which an issue is raised may be different today (the Internet, for example), but the underlying temptation or issue that befalls humans is generally one of the same issues that have existed throughout human history.

God knows what we are dealing with and, more importantly, has an answer and a solution.  Paul goes on in his letter to the Corinthians to say that God will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can handle.  He will always provide us a way of escape. 

Part of His provided means of escape is human history as it has been recorded in the Bible.  Stories of how God provided a way for our Christian ancestors to overcome a whole variety of challenges are not included in the Bible simply for our reading pleasure.  One way of escaping a problematic situation is to never get ourselves in the situation to begin with.  A knowledge of history allows you to recognize similar situations as what people in the past have dealt with and avoid those situations altogether.

God's Word is useful and instructive, and it is our privilege and responsibility to study it.  He has sent the Holy Spirit to live inside of us and provide us with constant, real-time counsel.  But He also allows us to benefit from others' experiences and the solutions arrived at through their dealings with God and the Holy Spirit.

Knowing what is in the Bible is not just for impressing our friends with the ability to recite Scripture.  Knowing our Bible is an important part of how God helps us navigate tricky waters and overcome the challenges of today's world.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

God's "Win-Win" Proposition to Us

Psalm 37: 3-4  "Trust in the Lord and do what is good; dwell in the land and live securely.  Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart's desires."

Many people say they are Christians and that they follow God because of what they hear in the last statement above.  They mistakenly believe that by agreeing to recognize God on some superficial level, they will get what they want. 

What they envision as this "win-win" scenario between them and God resembles King Darius' requirement that no one in the kingdom will bow down and worship any god other than him.  Of course, Daniel didn't follow this proclamation and was thrown in the lion's den as a result.  The requirement was a purely superficial, action-based trade off- "if you do/don't do this, I will/will not do that."

Many people view God in the same light.  "If I say I'm a Christian and go to church, God will make me rich, give me power and authority, etc."  But this is not trusting or taking delight in the Lord.  This is taking delight in what He can do, not who He is.  This is deciding that the cost (calling yourself a Christian and going to church) is worth the reward you expect to get (wealth, power, etc.)

God asks us to worship who He is, not what He is capable of doing.  We are to trust in Him, not His ability to do something for us.  We are to take delight in Him, not what we think He will give us.

The last part of the verse is the real litmus test- "He will give you your heart's desires."  This is the confusing part for so many of us.  But the revelation to be gained here is that our hearts and the desires of our heart are not the same.  When we have truly trusted in the Lord and we take delight in Him, our hearts are transformed.  The desires that flow out of a transformed heart bear no resemblance to the desires of our sinful, selfish heart.  If the desires look the same today as they did before, there's a valid question as to whether your heart has been transformed.  And this leads to a bigger question about whether you have truly opened your heart to God and surrendered all.

If we truly desire Him, everything else becomes meaningless in comparison.  If we truly desire more of Him, the circumstances in which He does this are at His discretion.  If we find ourselves praying more about our circumstances than we do asking for more of Him, I'd submit that we are missing the point.  If our hearts are in the right place, we would gladly trade wealth and power if He asked us to in order to gain more of Him.  As hard as this sounds, we should not ask for an end to a trial in our lives if that trial is a means through which God is sharing more of Himself with us.

The psalmist leaves out the key component in the verses- that our trust and delight in Him purifies our hearts and transforms what our hearts desire.  God will give us our transformed heart's desire, which is to have more of Him, not to gain wealth and earthly status.