Friday, April 22, 2011

Grow or Go?

Mark 5:18-20
As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”
So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

When Jesus Christ touches someone's life and they come to know Him as Savior and Lord, there are two natural next steps; to enter the community of faith to be ministered to (grow) and re-entering the world to do ministry (go). While these do not have to be exclusive (after all, to follow Jesus would have been to follow Him into ministry), in this case, Jesus clearly chooses "go" for the man who was previously Demon possessed. I bet this is a surprise for most Christians today.
For the most part, the church waits for a newer believer to grow in knowledge, conduct and even reputation before bestowing upon them a ministry or role within the church. Most churches would discourage re-entry into the life and society from which one was saved. Some believers have become convinced that before going into ministry or out on the mission field they must be mature in faith and well equipped for the task. While this may be true for pastors (1 Tim. 3:6), Jesus decision here contradicts these modern understanding of ministry. Furthermore, so does the result of the formerly possessed man's ministry; "all the people were amazed."
So, is "going" more important than "growing?" I don't thing this is the case. In fact I have to believe that when a believer chooses ministry the naturally choose growth as well. We can't follow in the footsteps of Jesus without becoming more like him. Conversely, to choose growing rather than going may actually impede growth. We'll never experience His power through us, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, His provision and protection or the real-life spiritual battle that is all around us. Ultimately, when we choose to go, we choose to grow. We should never let a lack of spiritual knowledge or a track record of the past prevent us stepping out in faith and sharing what Christ has done for us.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What is discipleship?

Mark 4:8
"But other seed fell on good ground and yielded a crop that sprang up, increased and produced: some thirty-fold, some sixty, and some a hundred.”

Jesus says that good soil receives the seed and yields a crop that springs up, increases and produces fruit. For the first time I noticed that the sign of healthy soil is the health, produce and product of the crops they yield. In other words, if I truly receive the seed of God's Word and allow it to grow in me, I will produce fruit and that fruit will also produce fruit. That fruit will be marked by strength (springing up), growth (increase) and multiplication (producing fruit).
It is not enough to produce fruit. I must produce fruit that will seed and produce more fruit. I must tend to those crops and nurture them until they produce fruit as well. This is the process of discipleship. Discipleship is planting a seed, nurturing that seed, growing that seed, helping that seed produce fruit and then guiding that seed to plant more seed.
Do these habits mark my ministry? Am I seeing a seed through to the end? Am I content to simply produce growth or fruit? Do I passionately pursue multiplication and seed planting in the next generations? Am I intentional or accidental in the way that I approach my seed scattering? Am I a nurturer of seeds or ignorant of my seeds? There are so many questions to ask.

Lord - teach me to plant seeds that also plant seeds. Amen

Monday, April 18, 2011

What type of sinner are you?

Mark 2:17
"When Jesus heard it, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”"

To clarify, what Jesus was saying here is that He came not for the self-righteous, but for sinners. In this passage we find three kinds of sinners. Mark mentions tax collectors. These were people who had compromised their ethnic and national identity by working for the Romans at the expense of their own people. These were equivalent to the white-collar criminals of today, swindling money out of the vulnerable through unethical and shady business practices. They tried to look clean on the outside as if everything was kosher but Jewish society wouldn't let them forget that they were not welcomed in their religious clubs.
The second category of sinner is simply called "sinners." These are the run-of-the-mill individuals who did little to cover up their sins and didn't particularly care about the label. Their sin was openly visible and their reputation preceded them. They may have tried to make things right through ritual and sacrifice however the Jewish community wouldn't let them forget that their behavior, whether spiritual or carnal, didn't change their identity, they were sinners. They knew this.
The final category of sinner is those who didn't accept the fact that they were sinners, self-righteous religious people who looked down on those who couldn't escape their sins and the reputation that came with it. These sinners were the ones who made the rules in Judaism and determined who would be in and who would be out. These were the Pharisees and Sadducees and scribes and teachers of the Law who's sin was the most subtle but the most toxic of all; pride, arrogance, ignorance and self-righteousness. Their sin was most toxic because it prevented them from seeing and accepting their true condition; sinner.
The label "sinner" actually has no hierarchy. Sin is sin. And there is only one type of sin that God is tolerant of; repented sin. No self-righteous person could possibly receive the forgiveness of sins sins the first step in forgiveness is recognition of sin followed by repentance.
I suppose, in light of this understanding, there really are only two types of sinners in this world; ignorant and repentant. Which one am I?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

to trust the Holy Spirit

Mark 1:12-13
Immediately the Spirit drove Him (Jesus) into the wilderness.
And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him.

These two verses are so packed with truth and wonder for me.
First, Jesus, the Son of God, was driven by the Spirit. Jesus didn't act of His own will and wisdom but depended upon and obeyed the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Jesus' demonstration of obedience to both the Father's agenda and the Spirit's moving reveal profound humanity and humility in Jesus.
Second, the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness where he would face substantial emotional, spiritual and physical danger. Most of us have a theology that prompts us to believe that the Holy Spirit only guides us toward blessing, away from danger and around such temptation and trial. This is not so. At times, the Spirit leads us directly into harms way, that God might intervene and minister to us by His holy angels, His Holy Spirit and/or His Holy Word.
Third, the fact that Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted and tried tells me that Jesus was growing in knowledge, wisdom and strength for His mission and ministry. He didn't show up on the scene fully equipped and prepared to sprint to the cross. He stopped to grow, to pray, to rest, to develop compassion, to celebrate, to ask questions, to gather a group of friends, to be strengthened, to live among us. It was this experience in trusting the Holy Spirit even though He led Him into harms way that empowered Jesus to trust the Holy Spirit later when He would be led to the cross.
Finally, I'm encouraged by the last line; "angels ministered to Him." When I read this verse I imagine a boxer, collapsed in his corner after rounds of brutal but victorious combat, being tended to by his trainer and coach, with water and wet towels and soothing rubs. Obedience to the Father's agenda, trusting the Spirit's prompting is no easy road but in the end, it is good. There is victory and comfort and rest. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, a ribbon at the finish line, a crown for the victor and a reunion of saints that is only possible through such complete and reckless obedience.
Do I trust the Holy Spirit in this way? Am I dependent upon His promptings and obedient to His direction? Am I willing to be led into danger and temptation and trial; to be prepared for a greater ministry for me and to me in the end? Do I trust that there is rest for the weary and comfort for the conflicted?

Father - sharpen my hearing that I might know and follow the prompting of Your Holy Spirit. Strengthen my resolve that I might obey his directions and fight the good fight You have laid before me. Prepare me daily for a greater ministry that I might honor You in all that I do and say. Amen.

Monday, April 11, 2011

God intervenes

Lamentations 5:19-22
You, O LORD, remain forever;
Your throne from generation to generation.
Why do You forget us forever,
And forsake us for so long a time?
Turn us back to You, O LORD, and we will be restored;
Renew our days as of old,
Unless You have utterly rejected us,
And are very angry with us!

The Lord is Lord over all generations and from generation to generation He is true. He keeps His promises and reveals Himself to His people. He is in control and His sovereign will is accomplished day by day.
I find it interesting that Jeremiah laments that the Lord has forsaken His people. The reality is that the Lord never forgets His people however they often do forget Him to the point of gross disobedience and stubborn refusal to repent. This is why, as Jeremiah rightly laments, the Lord must "turn us back" to him. We are desperately in need of the Lord's intervention. It is only through His intervention that we are restored to our position of obedience and blessing.
No greater intervention has been accomplished than that of Jesus Christ on the cross. Were it not for such a substitution and sacrifice, we would still be forgetting God; from generation to generation. Yet, He intervenes.
How amazing it is that God intervenes in the affairs of men.
How gracious it is that God would interrupt my life to get my attention.
How merciful it is that God would reach out His hand to me.
How wonderful it is that God would send His Son to be the Savior of the world.
How unfathomable it is that God would take on flesh and dwell with us.
How precious it is that God would join us in our suffering.
How good it is that we should meditate on such intervention.

Jesus - thank you for breaking into my world, my life, my heart. Amen.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

hope is good.

Jeremiah 3:21-27

This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
22 Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
23 They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
24 “ The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“ Therefore I hope in Him!”
25 The LORD is good to those who wait for Him,
To the soul who seeks Him.
26 It is good that one should hope and wait quietly
For the salvation of the LORD.
27 It is good for a man to bear
The yoke in his youth.

To hope in the Lord is good.
Hope in the Lord is not good because it brings about good or leads to good (though ultimately this is true) but because the hope itself is sufficient enough in any circumstance to bring contentment. Jeremiah was comforted by this hope because his hope was in the Lord. The Lord was his portion, all he had to hold onto; and it was enough... it was good. This hope in the Lord empowered him to focus on the character of God rather than his circumstances; to remember that the Lord's mercies are new every morning, His compassion does not fail and His faithfulness is truly great. These truths are the constant product of hope rather than the temporary good or relief we so often seek.

So where is my hope? Is my hope in my own ability? my own intelligence? even the promises of God rather than the Lord Himself? Am I waiting on a blessing, changes in my circumstances, justice or vengeance?... or am I waiting on the Lord alone? Hope is good. Hope in the Lord is sufficient. It is good that I should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.

Lord - teach me to wait on You alone. Strengthen my hope in You. Amen.

Monday, April 4, 2011

no surprise

Lamentations 2:17
The LORD has done what He purposed;
He has fulfilled His word
Which He commanded in days of old.
He has thrown down and has not pitied,
And He has caused an enemy to rejoice over you;
He has exalted the horn of your adversaries.

God's wrath, punishment and discipline should never surprise us. He has clearly shown us what is required of us. I'm reminded of the words of Deuteronomy 11:26-28, "Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you today; and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way which I command you today, to go after other gods which you have not known."
Yet the discipline of God is always such a surprise. (Blessing however is a different story. These should never cease to surprise.) For some reason we have grown accustomed to His mercy and come to expect his patience. We have taken for granted the longsuffering of God. Yet, such an allowance is not good. It causes us to grow calloused toward our sin and bitter toward our Heavenly Father. When the Father disciplines those He calls sons and daughters, (Heb. 12:6) it is a sign of favor and preservation. We should never be surprised by such faithfulness from our Heavenly Father. He is simply doing what He has promised and fulfilling the role He has already declared to us - one of loving Father. So when I sin and rebel, I can (and should) expect correction... with gratitude.

Lord - correct me and guide me. Discipline me and refine me. Remove sin and rebellion from my life and let my words, deeds and intentions honor You. Amen.