Sunday, July 30, 2017

Unto All the World

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation." Mark 16:15

Last Sunday, we happened to be sitting in church in Kona, HI.  I am so grateful that the call to "Go unto all the world" includes beautiful places like Hawaii.  One of the great joys of traveling for me is visiting churches in different countries. I am always amazed at the sacrifices made by the first church planters who were called to isolated places like Hawaii once was. Every church is evidence of the gifts of many people who were passionate about the call to proclaim the gospel.  It is such a privilege to see how the body of Christ celebrates and builds one another up in the faith throughout the world. 

The minister at Living Stones Church had just returned home after several weeks of ministry and vacation on the mainland.  He encouraged all of us that our ministry goes with us wherever we are.  The ministry of the body of Christ isn't confined to the sanctuary that you regularly worship in- it goes with you- whether you are in Hi, the U.K. or sitting at lunch with friends.  

Going on vacation should be a time to be bold and open to see God in new and different ways.  Getting our of our comfort zone can be a great way to grow in our faith.  Summer camp challenged and built up my sister's faith. This summer, my friend Julie is leading a bunch of kids from North Carolina on a youth trip to host English language Bible camp in Korea.  My older son spent a week playing with inner city kids in Memphis with his church youth group. Our ministry during vacation shouldn't end when we are too old for youth group. No matter where in the world we go- we can follow the call to "Go unto all the world." Traveling might even enable us to expand our mission and influence for Jesus more than at home because we don't have our usual responsibilities and expectations.   

Wherever we are in the world, our purpose is to glorify God. Enjoying the abundant life that Christ gave us is a powerful way to glorify God.  Rejoicing in the beauty of His creation whether we are sitting on the beach, awed by a volcano or marveling at a giraffe is a wonderful way to give Him glory.   

We don't have to be on vacation to rejoice in the glory of God.  Wherever you are right now,  take a moment to look around you at the sky, trees and animals. Rejoice in the beauty of creation and God's unending creativity. 
 "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork." Psalm 19:1

   "Praise the LordPraise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights above." Psalm 148:1

   "Praise the Lord all you nations, Praise the Lord all you people of the earth".  Psalm 117:1

Getting out of our comfort zone is a great way to experience God's glory and presence in a new way.  How has traveling expanded your view of God and His Church?  Please take a minute to share a memory with me. 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Too Much

And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19

I have been thinking about a conversation my Mom and I would have when I was a teenager while driving by huge houses near the mall.  I would make a comment about such a pretty house and how l liked such their long driveway and rolling yard. My mom would make a comment such as "Such a big house would take a lot of work to clean" or she would say, "Imagine how hard it would be to mow that yard."  One benefit of these conversations was that I learned not to want what other people had because I didn't want their responsibilities. As a teenager, cleaning my room was a huge task, I couldn't imagine being responsible for a mansion. This perspective helped me be content with our much smaller house and big enough yard.  

However, I have realized applying this same logic to spiritual things has limited my view of God's ability to provide. I was afraid of too much. You see if God provides the big house with the big yard, He will also provide the ability to clean it or the resources to have someone do the yard maintenance because He has unlimited resources. If He allows you to have a huge family, when you ask Him for help, He will provide the wisdom, strength and endurance you need because He is the perfect Father. If He calls you to a position of influence, He will enable you because . He is the Lord and Ruler of all. Nothing is too hard for Him.  

Focusing on our resources and ability limits what God wants to bless us and bless others.  A big part of growing in our relationship with God involves being obedient by getting in situations that are over our head and beyond our ability so that we ask Him to provide.   

When faced with a hungry crowd of 5,000 people, Jesus told his disciples, "You feed them."  Jesus knew they didn't have the resources. In fact, after scrounging among themselves, they only had five loaves of bread and two fish. He challenged them to feed the people because He wanted to reveal his ability and resources to them- not because He expected them to provide the food. Jesus then blessed the food.  This blessing asked God to make it greater than what was there, just as Isaac made prophetic blessings for his sons and Jacob blessed  Joseph's sons. Asking for God's blessing on our day, our resources, our words, our work and our families unleashes God's power to take what we have and make it greater than what we could imagine.  The story of feeding the five thousand is found in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Interestingly, a couple of verses after this miracle in Mark 6 is the amazing story of Jesus walking on water. "But when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out,for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid. And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.The Gospel writers wanted to make sure we knew and understood the importance of this story. God's ability is not limited by our resources, faith, or understanding.  

We can't walk on water of our own strength, we can't feed five thousand with a couple of fish and five loaves of bread, we can't heal people who are chronically ill. We can't even introduce them to Jesus without the power of the Holy Spirit.   

Growing in our faith means we will be challenged by Jesus to "Feed them."  I often respond like the disciples and focus on my resources rather than obediently using what God has given to me and trusting it will be enough.  In the end, God did use the disciples to feed the 5000.  God provided the food and they simply handed it out- we are called to be the hands and feet of Christ. 

For many of my friends, sharing the good news of Jesus with others seems impossible. They wonder if they will have the right words and are afraid that they might do it wrong. Ask Him to help you, He knows their hearts and hurts.  He will give you the words. He is the Word.

I understand feeling inadequate. When I felt called to write my Hezekiah study, I truly felt like I only had enough insight to write a blog.  Maybe a couple of hundred words but once I finished that I felt God say "Write more." So I did. Before I knew it, with God's help, I had a nine chapter Bible Study completed.  God supplied the time, the words and the wisdom. As Paul wrote in  Philippians 4:19, "And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus."

What has God called you to do that you don't have the resources for?  What is holding you back?

I love to hear stories of God's provision, in the comments share a story of how God provided when you trusted God to bless your limited resources and stepped out in faith.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Curse God and Die

Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” Job 2:9

Job is one of the most interesting characters in the Bible. He is one of the most righteous people of all time, yet he was horribly afflicted by Satan.  In fact, God gave Satan permission to attack Job and the first thing that Satan took away was his wealth. Successive attacks meant that his cattle, sheep, camels and all of his servants were destroyed. This was just the beginning.  The devastation continued when his ten children were killed when the building they were in collapsed.  To me, this would be an attack on my greatest blessing. I truly don't know how I would respond.  

Job's response to losing his kids is powerful. He was devastated.   He shaved his head and tore his clothes in mourning, yet he profoundly exclaimed, "And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”  Job 1:21   Wow!   I can't imagine.  Job blessed the name of the Lord even as He knew that the Lord could have prevented the heartbreak and loss that he was experiencing.  

This wasn't the response that his adversary Satan expected so he continued his attack on Job.  Satan doesn't play fair.  He also didn't stop his attack after taking Job's kids and his wealth, he also removed his health.  Here's the Message version of Job 2:7-8 "Satan left God and struck Job with terrible sores. Job was ulcers and scabs from head to foot. They itched and oozed so badly that he took a piece of broken pottery to scrape himself, then went and sat on a trash heap, among the ashes."

Job's wife had finally had enough. She knew her husband was a person of integrity.  She knew that her husband had prayed and sacrificed to God by interceding for their children every day.  She was in mourning for their kids just like he was.  She had lost her financial security.  Her world was falling apart and finally she had enough. So she said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.”  

The Hebrew root of the word translated "Curse" in this verse is actually "bless" - in fact the verse more literally says, “Bless not God and die."   As I was looking up all the times the word Bless is used in the Old Testament- this one struck me, Job lived such a life of blessing that simply “not blessing” God would be revolutionary for him.   Even after his children all tragically died, yet he still blessed the name of the Lord.  I have been challenged by this conversation to make blessing the Lord such an intricate part of my life that for me to not bless would be so out of character, that it would be equivalent to cursing.

In response to his wife’s admonishment to not bless God, Job reminded her and us that if we are to accept the good from God's hand we must also accept the bad.  Life does not always seem fair.   When I was about five years old, I complained to my mom, “That’s not fair.”  Her reply was, “It’s as fair as pork chops.”  She explained that life is not fair, just as it is not fair to the pig that becomes a pork chop. Even at five years old, I wanted life to be fair. 
Job was righteous and hadn’t done anything to deserve the tragedy that his life had become.  Three “friends” even tried to convince him that he must have sinned or done something wrong to deserve the suffering.   They wanted his suffering to be “fair,” consequences for his sins. Sometimes we are reaping the consequences of our foolish and sinful choices or we are suffering as a result of another’s sin that affects us.     

I think we all are like Job’s friends and we want life to be fair.  Job’s story teaches us that at any given time, life isn’t fair. In fact, Job suffered because of his righteousness.  1 Peter 3:13-17  summarizes how this relates to us, “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.”

Job’s story has a happy ending.  He wa blessed with ten children, numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren to the fourth generation.  His wealth was far beyond what he previously had.  His ability to bless God at all times, allowed him to experience the presence and voice of God in the midst of the whirlwind.   Job summarizes all that he has gone through, by saying, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.” Job 42:5 Sometimes the greatest blessing in the midst of our greatest heartbreak is to experience the peace and presence of God in the midst of the storm.

How have you experienced the presence and voice of God in the midst of suffering?

I want every part of my life to bless God so much that not blessing would be totally out of character.  Psalm 43:1 (KJV) says “I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth.”   Have you found a way that blessing God at all times becomes like breathing?