servetogrow

Day 30: Running the race

Paper Tigers & Impressing God

A Write 31 Days Series

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
— Philippians 3:12-16 ESV

I started this series with these wrong ideas (taken from my intro):

  • I thought I could impress God by being good and doing good.
  • I have been working my head off serving in ministry, and I felt like God would be disappointed in me if I didn't do well.

Here we are at day 30.  Have I achieved my goal of understanding how wrong these statements are?

I look at this verse in Philippians, and it is full of verbs that my try-hard, do-good heart loves.

  • press on
  • straining forward
  • toward the goal
  • hold true

Am I wrong to think we should let go of the striving?  Just look at this persuasive call to action?

My goal of this series was not to prove that we could stop doing things for God; it was to change the attitude of the doer.

Here are the things I wanted from this series (taken from my intro):

  • a clearer understanding of our relationship with God
  • a truer understanding of the God who created and loves us
  • a sounder theology
  • a humbler position
  • no longer driven to earn God’s approval or love
  • and no longer driven to impress God

I think if we look back a few verses in Philippians, we can see how these ideas are met before all the action takes place.

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
— Philippians 3:7-11 ESV

Paul is saying that His righteousness only comes through faith in Christ.

In order to run the race, pressing on and straining forward, we must first know this truth.  Knowing this truth deeply, down in your bones, only comes with maturity as a Christian.  Maybe that is why verse 15 says, "let those of us mature think this way."

I pray that my striving to impress God has come to an end and that I can continue my race, maturely knowing that my righteousness only comes through faith in Christ.

I cannot earn a right standing with God through good works or good behavior (the law).  Faith in Christ is the only option.  As scripture says, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."

 

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And a song...

Day 13: Tiring Out

Paper Tigers & Impressing God

A Write 31 Days Series

I could not have begun to learn how to quit fearing paper tigers without coming to the end of myself by tiring myself out.  I was like that annoying toy in the bottom of the toy box that makes noise every time something gets jostled.  I needed to run out of batteries.  This didn’t happen overnight, but over a series of events over three years.  Let me list them for you.

1st -- My first mission trip overseas.  I came home with such a passion to change the circumstances that I saw children living in.  I rallied friends and strangers to donate every cloth diaper I could get my hands on.

2nd -- My second mission trip overseas.  I was so excited to take supplies to the orphanages we had visited.  I began to realize that my efforts were such a drop in the bucket of meeting the children’s needs.  I began to realize that my efforts were good, but they weren’t world changing because the problems were so vast.

3rd -- I said yes to almost anything that advanced the gospel, no matter how difficult it might be to accomplish.  I was afraid I would miss something God had for me.  I was afraid that if I didn’t say yes, that no one else would say yes.

4th -- I picked “ardent” as my word for the year because I was so gung ho excited to work hard changing the world.

5th -- I was standing in the living room crying because I was so tired.  I felt like I was doing all the right things, and God was holding out on me.  I was serving Him, and the burden was so far from light.  It was the night before a women’s event, and I had worked so hard all week.  I had missed some sleep, and I knew I wouldn’t get sleep until the event was over.  There was a detail that had to be handled before I could go to bed, and I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.  Why wasn’t God looking out for me?  Why hadn’t He sent more help?  Why was the response less than I had expected?  Why are some things “successful” and other things just not?  Was this a spiritual attack and I was just too immature to see it?

6th -- I attended a women’s conference where we were encouraged to ask God what He wanted us to do for His Kingdom.  I had a dozen answers I could have written down, a dozen things I could lead, start, or volunteer to accomplish.  I listened and wept as the Holy Spirit told me the answer I was suppose to write down, “Just be you.  Just be the one person you are.  Stop trying to do it all.  Just be.”

7th -- I had a tough summer because of low vitamin d.  I was running on empty, and I had been for months and months.  I had to do some self care over the summer that resulted in a really great tan.  God showed me a passage in Galatians, and as I read it in The Message version, my eyes were opened to how deeply I was people pleasing and God impressing.  God began to shift my thinking and open my eyes to His truth.

8th -- My third mission trip overseas.  The lesson that what I can do on my own is so insignificant really finally was sinking in.  I could see that what we had done was only effective because Christ moved in spite of our efforts.  I began trying to verbalize what God was teaching me, but it was coming out all wrong.  The ideas I’m sharing in this blog series began to sprout on that trip.

 

That moment crying in my living room was just a piece of the story God was sewing in my life, teaching me this lesson, but I can so easily recall that feeling.  I felt completely alone in my pursuit to live out a calling for Him.  I felt like even God was not doing His part.  I wanted God to be proud of me, impressed by all that I was doing, and He was holding out on me.

This feeling, these questions are the heart of why I’m writing this series.  We’ve covered some ground on our topic; we are almost to the half way point of our 31 days.  Over the next few weeks that we have left, I hope to answer at least a few of these questions that we maybe have not answered yet.

Tiring out and coming to the end of myself was just the beginning.

What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a ‘law man’ so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.
Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God’s grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.
— Galatians 2:19-21 The Message

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I've already shared this song once (or maybe even twice), but it it is the theme song of my journey here.  I love it so much.  This vid has lyrics, so there's that.

Day 8: Guest Post

Paper Tigers & Impressing God

A Write 31 Days Series

Today I'm turning my blog over to the capable hands of my church & home school friend Cassie Haney.  Cassie, her husband, and her five extremely adorable children just moved to Guadalajara, Mexico as YWAM missionaries about 6 months ago.  A few weeks ago, the Haney family came to visit us at our church, where we will always consider them members, and gave a small report on their missionary efforts.  Cassie's husband Luke spoke about what he had learned on the mission field.  To my surprise, he began to say some of the exact things I had been planning on writing in this series.  I knew I needed to ask them to be a piece of this series.  Cassie graciously wrote these encouraging words for you and me:


As much as I wish it wasn’t true, many years of my life in childhood and as an adult have been spent fearing paper tigers. I was a huge people pleaser, parent pleaser, teacher pleaser, youth minister pleaser, coach pleaser, friend pleaser, put on a happy face, “everything’s perfect here I don’t need any help from you but I can help you if you need me” type of girl. This attitude served me well in my youth, I did well in school, had lots of friends, and my parents were generally happy with my behavior. However, these traits began to feel more like chains as I progressed into adulthood. I became a secret keeper (a.k.a. liar at times), because I was scared to bring to light the darkness that was in my house. I was a pretender, going on for many years as if I didn’t have any skeletons in my closet. I was an enforcer, requiring my children to uphold this pretend world I had created. The truth was that I was always afraid. I felt incredibly guilty about who I was, and how I was behaving. I knew I was far from God. The scariest part of it all, was the reality that I didn’t know my way back to Him, and if it depended on me, I was toast. 

At that time, with nothing to offer, no good deeds in my pocket, my family life was a mess, my heart was hard, my parenting was ugly . . . I had literally nothing going for me spiritually . . . that was when I cried out to God. 

 

Jesus saved me. 

Jesus saved my marriage.

Jesus saved my family.

 

He is no paper tiger, He is the LION OF JUDAH! 

 

When He moves, it is undeniable. When He creates, it is undestroyable. When He saves, there is no vulnerability. When He loves, there is no pride left in me. There is power even in the mention of His name. 

Wow.

My God pulled me up out of the slimy pit, I was rescued from myself . . . not because of my redeeming character qualities, or my good deeds, or my positive attitude. All glory to Him. 

Because of the way He rescued me, I understand that it simply doesn’t matter very much who I am or what I do . . . as long as I’m with Him. I don’t need to be “happy”, or “good”, or “cheerful” as if He needs me to be that way. He doesn’t need me. I hope that I would never bow my knee and serve a “god” who needed something from me. If He needed me, then I would be the god. NO! I need Him, He is worthy, He is Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior! If I am happy, good, or cheerful it is because He loved me first, not because I’m doing Him a favor.

Jonah wasn’t “good”. He didn’t cheerfully fullfil is Christian duty by happily going about with the “joy of the Lord” on him in service to God. He was no people pleaser. God used angry, spiteful, bitter Jonah . . . because God chose Jonah. God gave Jonah what he needed because God had what Jonah needed. Jonah didn’t have it . . . but God could use Jonah because God is more than able to account for our shortcomings. 

So why are we prone to make God so little and paper tigers so big in our hearts? Why do we let fear of men override fear of God. Why do we believe that the physical world is more real than the spiritual? Why do we allow ourselves to be slaves?? We are free, under the care and grace of our loving Father and Savior, the LION of Judah, the worthy one, Jesus Christ. I encourage you to bow your knee, look up, and find salvation!

-Cassie Haney



I'd like to thank Cassie for contributing this to the series.  I know Cassie well enough to know that every single word of this is true and sincere.  I would encourage you to read through Cassie's blog on a day you need a pick-me-up.  She has a brightness about her that brings joy to my life.  Mexico is blessed to have her. 

I would like to give you, the reader, an opportunity to support missions this very minute.  I watched the Haney family sell everything they owned to move to Mexico and begin this chapter in their lives.  Luke left a profitable optometry business that he had begun to go into this mission field.  Selling their possessions covered this half year they have spent in training, and now they are raising support to continue their mission in Mexico.

God might be prompting you to financially support their mission, either a one time gift or monthly.  Click here to find out how to do that.

 

 

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What about God’s Word?

#servetogrow part 7

When I started this #servetogrow series, I began to make a case that discipleship didn’t just involve studying God’s Word.  I proposed a theory that serving others brings spiritual growth in our lives.  As I wrap up this series today, I’d like to revisit that theory and see if our perspective has changed over these last six blog posts.

The most popular definition of discipleship involves sitting down in groups and studying the Bible.  That is what we picture when we hear the word discipleship.  If we look up the definition of (lower case) disciple, it is defined as “any follower of Christ.”

Discipleship is learning how to follow Christ.  

I want to point out what an active verb that “follow” is.  When we picture the word “follow” in our minds, we don’t see someone sitting at a desk or sitting with a book, do we?

Let me be clear that the Bible is the clearest way we can know the character and commands of Christ.  It is our training book for being right with God.  It is infallible.  It is our teacher.  It is what equips us for every good work.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
— 2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV

Studying God’s word is clearly necessary to learn how to follow Christ, but I believe it is just a piece of discipleship.

There are so many active things that we can do to actually be a disciple, and we don’t just immediately know how to do these things once we’ve prayed to receive Christ.  Sharing your faith, sharing your testimony, leading a friend to know Christ, serving the orphan or widow, feeding His sheep, and doing justice work are all pieces of being a disciple, and those actions take practice There is a learning curve to both studying God’s Word and putting action to God’s Word.

As you attempt to do the things disciples do, you will naturally rely on God’s Word for help, encouragement, instruction, and support.  As we feel ill-equipped to live out our call as a disciple, we will naturally lean into His Word.

The biggest encouragement to becoming a self-feeder with a good grasp on scripture is heart-felt need in your daily life as a disciple.  We all start out as a spiritual newborn, but as we serve, learn, and grow, our hope is to move forward from milk to solid, self-fed food.

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation
— 1 Peter 2:2 ESV

If we agree that being a disciple involves more than just studying the Bible, we should agree that discipleship should involve more than just studying the Bible.

But where do we start?

If we go to God’s Word, we can find plenty of commands for disciples who are following Christ.

We can look to the Great Commission and know every disciple should be going into the world to make other disciples.  We can look to commands about justice and spend time feeding the poor, caring for the fatherless, serving the widows.  We can look to examples of actions of His sheep in Matthew 25 and feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick, and visit the imprisoned.

The key to this is to do it together with other disciples.  As you serve together, the more mature Christians will be put into a natural position to mentor and disciple the less mature Christians.  Together they become The Church practicing being disciples.

Most local churches offer discipleship weekends that have sessions of teaching.  Wouldn’t it be crazy to offer a discipleship weekend that involved feeding the poor, clothing refugees, visiting a prison, praying with the sick, or just fishing for men?  The benefit would not just be for those served, but also for those serving.  The act of serving will lead to learning more about following Jesus.

I cannot miss this opportunity to point out how important the Great Commission is in our walk following Jesus.  We are all commanded to make disciples, and when we lead someone to make the decision to follow Christ, we have made a disciple.

It is only God who saves, but He allows us to be a part of this process of making disciples because He cares about our obedience.

There is nothing on this Earth that makes me feel like the least-equipped, least-knowledgable Christian ever than talking to another person about salvation.  As we do this uncomfortable, challenging work of sharing the path to salvation with others, we will never feel more lead to dive into studying and know God’s Word.

Discipleship involves both studying and doing the Word.

Doing the Word will drive you to study the Word, and studying the Word should drive you to doing the Word.

Let’s change our view of discipleship and begin serving to grow!

 

I like to share a song with every blog post.  I love how deep & full of truth Christian rap is.  It is comforting to me on days when my heart is so heavy for my city.

  "Lord give me an explanation for your grace
So I can have an answer when they're starring in my face
Not an answer for the question but answer for the cancer
Like why me and my darkest thoughts are always so romantic? Huh?
Why do I love what you hate?
Why does my obedience come and go?
I need the combination to the safe
Lord I pray you show yourself to the lost
And give the streets a revelation of the cross"

I Know You Believe It, You Send Your Kids to Do It

#servetogrow part 6

Last week I went to serve as a counselor at children’s camp.  I was surrounded other counselors that were just kids: teens, pre-teens, and college-aged.  Today I will get on my bike to deliver lunches to children in the low-income neighborhood that I serve.  I will have a lot of help, but I probably won’t have one adult go with me.

I know you are sending your kids to serve, at missions and outreaches, because I’m serving along side them.  You send them to serve on trips and at camps.  Why do you do this?  I’ll tell you why.  You want them to grow spiritually.

You want them to experience God.  You want their minds and hearts to be changed, so they will make good decisions with their lives.

One month from now, I will be in Ethiopia with my daughter Lucy serving with Storyteller Missions, visiting a few orphanages in the capital city, Addis Ababa.  This is my third trip to Ethiopia serving with this organization.  This year it was important to me that my daughter Lucy came on this trip.  It is one of the main reasons for serving this summer.  It’s so important to me for a lot of reasons.  Lucy is seventeen, andI want Lucy to be exposed to the realities of a third-world country.  I want her to see where her future adopted brother, God willing, will come from, what his life was like before our family and the culture he will be leaving behind.  But my biggest reason I want her to go is to mature spiritually.  I want her to see prayers answered.  I want her to depend on God when she feels uncomfortable or unable to solve the unending problems children face in this country.  I want her to see people on the other side of the world worshiping and serving the same God we love and serve.

It is obvious to me that I believe that serving leads to spiritual growth because I taking my daughter to serve in hopes that she grow spiritually.  It is obvious to me that believe it too, because you are sending your kids to grow spiritually through serving.

Why wouldn’t I want those same things for my own spiritual growth?  I do, and you should too.

Even if you served at camps, missions, and trips in your formative years, you still can learn more about God.

As Christians we often talk about the abundant life we are given, but so many times I feel that it is used out of context.  God doesn’t care about your bank account.  He cares about your heart.

On Earth, there will never be a spiritual arrival point.  There isn’t a place you can get where you will know and experience everything God has to show us or our relationship being complete.  That doesn’t happen until Heaven.  While we are here, as we serve the Lord, there are endless lessons to learn about our magnificent God.

I could go to Ethiopia a million times, and that millionth time, I will learn something new about following Jesus.

Here’s the funny thing.  It isn’t about what I accomplish serving Him.  It isn’t about what I can do for Him.  It isn’t about the amount of cloth diapers I can cart in suitcases half way across the world.  It isn’t about how many children I can feed off the trailer of my bike.  God can accomplish so much more with one miracle than I could ever do with my two hands and two feet.

It isn’t about what I can do at all.

God is concerned about my obedience and your obedience.  Obedience stretches you and leads to spiritual growth.  It draws you closer to God, and He wants you close.

I’ve learned this lesson, not on my couch, not in my church pew.  I learned this lesson packing up cloth diapers and dragging them through 4 airports over 8,000 miles.  I learned this lesson pedaling my bike in 100 degree weather.

I’ve learned so many things by coming to the end of myself but never coming to an end to our God.

I can do my best to put these lessons on paper for you to read, but I think you have to go learn them yourself.

This summer, instead of just sending your kids or your youth groups to serve, get out, be obedient, and learn something.  Grow spiritually.

 

I like to share a song with each blog post, because music is so life-giving to me.  This is a song we sang at children's camp, and I can't get enough of it!  It's so fun!

Humble, Serving, Local Church

#servetogrow part 5

Learning about other cultures makes you aware of your own culture.  Someone pointed out to me that people in Northern Africa have a very community based identity, and I can help but notice this same attribute in so many other world cultures.  Having your identity defined by your tribe or family is very different from the culture I grew up in.  It brings America’s culture of individualism more glaring into view.

Movies like Footloose, where a young boy finds his identity in doing the one thing his family and tribe disapproves of - dancing, or E.T., where a child of divorce relates more closely with an alien than his own school and family, or Sixteen Candles, where a family is so disjointed that they forget their daughter’s big birthday, remind me where I get me individualistic thinking from.  I rarely say “we” or “us.”

When I read the letters of the Bible, only a few of them were written to an individual.  There were some letters written to Timothy, one to Titus, and one to Philemon.  17 of the 21 letters were written to a specific congregation or multiple congregations.  They were written with to an audience with a different culture than ours, a culture with community based identities.

As you read this passage from Philippians, imagine it was written to your local church, in the way it was written to the church at Philippi.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
— Philippians 2:1-11 ESV

Reading that passage with a community mindset, it takes on a different life in your mind.  I don’t imagine Paul telling me to humble myself personally and serve, but I imagine Paul telling my people to come together humbly and serve together.

As an individual, we absolutely should take on the humility of Christ and take the form of a servant.  It is a life-long process of sanctification.  This process is spiritual growth.

As a church body, we should also be taking on the humility of Christ and taking the form of a servant.  That means, not just serving each other, but serving our cities and communities.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

Our church should look at the people who are not yet part of the global church, those that do not know the life-changing news of the gospel, and count them more significant than our congregation.

I don’t see that happen very often.  I don’t think it’s because people in churches are selfish jerks either.  I think there are a lot of reasons that answer the question of why this isn’t happening in most local churches.

1.  Groupthink

Groupthink is defined as the practice of thinking or making decisions as a group in a way that discourages creativity or individual responsibility.  This is a real thing.  It has been proven by psychological testing.  When humans get together and try to make discussions as a group, creativity goes by the wayside and so do our biggest individual core values.  As a Christian, we know we value serving others, but as a group, that individual responsibility of serving others gets lost.  It takes serious creativity and risk-taking to serve those outside the church.  Groupthink is killing our ability to do this.

2.  Status Quo

Changing the current situation takes a big momentum shift.  It is extremely difficult to change.  Making changes in church culture or policy sometimes ends in pastors being fired or people changing churches.  Those kinds of high-stake consequences make change almost impossible.

3.  Human Nature

It is just a fact that our flesh is drawn to easy and comfortable.  We don’t even think about how much we depend on the comforts of our homes and inward-focused churches.  It is only when our comforts are challenged that we even consider how we operate.  When we remodel our kitchen or go on a mission trip, we are thrown out of our comfort zone and question bigger decisions.  When things our comfortable, we rarely think about the big picture.

4.  Perks of Membership 

Many church members see their church as a type of club they belong to.  They view their tithes as dues, and it is awesome when your club has great benefits, a gym, great childcare, free coffee, cool t-shirts, fun trips, or cool camps.

5.  Lack of Volunteers

Every church struggles to fill nursery volunteer slots and teaching roles.  Church leaders and members can view those empty slots and built a narrative of scarcity.  They see those empty service positions and they decide that their congregation doesn’t have an interest in serving.  The fact is that nursery workers and teachers will be hard tasks to find volunteers for until Jesus comes back.  The true narrative is that congregations are full of people who want to serve, have diverse talents to give, and would gladly use those talents to reach the lost in their community.  They just don’t want to change diapers, and who can blame them.

So how do we stop the groupthink and change the status quo of local church?  How do churches begin serving their city and community?

The worst thing you could do is get mad at your pastor or church leaders.  They are working hard in an emotionally and spiritually difficult job.  They don’t need someone upset; they need someone set free.

I think the best thing you can do is start a work and invite church members to take part in your act of service.  Start small and get your pastor’s blessing.  You pastor might or might not the church’s name associated with your service project.  Be ok with it either way.  Call it the Philippians Project if you need to.  Find out something your community needs and serve them.  Find someone that isn’t a part of the Church, and find a way to show them that you count them more significant than your congregation.

Reading this, you might realize that I began this post telling you to think less individualistically, and now I am telling you to act individualistically.  In a perfect world, we could change our church culture and make it more outwardly focused on a dime.  The reality that we discussed makes this impossible.  Do what you can to peacefully change your local church’s culture and focus, but that is going to take time.  If we wait for those changes to happen before we begin serving our community, forget it.  You might as well pray your great-great-grandkids will have fun serving their community with their church.  You are the church.  You change your actions, invite your church members to join with you in serving, and I think outwardly-focused service will be contagious.  

As you serve your city, you will grow spiritually.  You will become more humble.  You will become more like Christ.

Growing Testimony

#servetogrow Part 4

We all think of our testimony as how we came to know Jesus, and it is that.  It is the answer to the question, “What made you hungry for a relationship with God?”  It is the story of how you realized you needed the grace and forgiveness that Jesus made possible.  The testimony of that moment when you accepted the gift of Jesus and you were born again, that is the beginning chapter of a testimony that will grow as your life continues, as you grow in faith and knowledge of our King.

If God is working in your life, you are adding to your testimony.

If you’d say that God isn’t working in your life, find where God is working, and join Him.  God is always at work.

A growing Christian has a growing testimony.  God never stops working.

At some point for everyone, life gets tough.  Storms come, as we have trials and suffer loss.  In those times, we lean into our God who has anchored us to the shore.  As we see God remain faithful, our faith becomes stronger, more concrete.  God can use our loss to allow us to comfort those who have suffered loss.  God can use the ugly, hurtful things this world opposes upon us to make us driven to protect others, restore others, to seek justice.

Sometimes we mess up.  We blow it.  It happens.  God can use our mistakes to help others.  When we realize our failings, we are so tenderhearted.  We are humbled.  We have compassion for others that have blown it.  We know how it feels to fail our Father.  We confess.  We find loving, free forgiveness.  He redeems.  God has been in the business of redemption since Eve picked up that fruit.  Redemption is possible for Him.  When you bring repentance to the table, He brings a new start.  Doing the hard work of asking forgiveness from people you might have hurt gives them the chance to add a story of forgiveness to their testimony.

God does not waste anything.

In any circumstance, God can use it for His good, to change lives, to change your story.

We see this idea played out most clearly in the life of Joseph.

Trial after trail came, but the same God who gave young Joseph a dream, fulfilled those dreams.  The nation of Israel was spared from famine because of Joseph’s life of faithfulness to God and God’s faithfulness to Joseph.

His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
— Genesis 50:18-21 ESV

As we grow spiritually, our testimony grows and grows.  We serve others when we share our testimony.

Anyone you encounter could be at that point of hungering for God, seeking His love and forgiveness.  You could be the one who gives them the first chapter of their testimony.

Share your story.  Serve that person in front of you who needs to hear it.  If the Holy Spirit is involved, you will both grow spiritually because of that conversation.

 

 

I love to include a song with every post.  My mission trip leader texted me this song this morning, how perfect is that?

Becoming like our Rabbi

#servetogrow part 4

You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth. For if you will be careful to do all this commandment that I command you to do, loving the LORD your God, walking in all his ways, and holding fast to him, then the LORD will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations greater and mightier than you.
— Deuteronomy 11:18-23 ESV

The idea of teaching about God in every situation of life, sitting, walking, lying down, and rising, has really become what I’ve strived for as a parent.  This is how real life truths are taught, by observation of lifestyle and by answering questions as we encounter them.  In Jewish culture, rabbis took this model and used it to teach their most gifted students.  The student would become an apprentice, living life with the rabbi.  The rabbi taught their students by making them accessible to their life.

Jesus adopted this rabbi-student model with his apostles.  He told them to “come” and to “follow me.”  But Jesus did something no other teacher could do, He atoned for their sin, and then He promised them that they would do greater things than He had done.  Jesus knew the Holy Spirit was coming to be their helper and dwell inside of His students.

Believe me: I am in my Father and my Father is in me. If you can’t believe that, believe what you see—these works. The person who trusts me will not only do what I’m doing but even greater things, because I, on my way to the Father, am giving you the same work to do that I’ve been doing. You can count on it. From now on, whatever you request along the lines of who I am and what I am doing, I’ll do it. That’s how the Father will be seen for who he is in the Son. I mean it. Whatever you request in this way, I’ll do.
— John 14:12-14 The Message

This promise of doing greater things than Jesus, it was hard for the disciples to believe.  It is hard for me to believe.  They knew what Jesus had been doing.  They’d seen it.  I’ve read my Bible.  I know what Jesus had done.  But Jesus said it.  He said to trust Him.  He said the Father would give us the same work to do that He had been doing.

In this statement, Jesus answered a question that every person and every local church asks, “What should we be doing with our life?”

We should be doing what Jesus was doing here on Earth.

I listed this out in part 1 of my #servetogrow series, but let me summarize again what Jesus did on Earth.

Jesus traveled from town to town, loving people.  He healed men, women and children.  He raised people from the dead.  He fed huge crowds of people.  He taught in stories called parables.  He preached the sermon on the Mount.  He welcomed the children to Himself.  He calms storms.  He gets alone to pray to His Father.  He dines with tax collectors and sinners.  

Are we really expected to be like Jesus Christ?  Can we really do all of these things, and even greater things than these?

Paul said this, in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

He asked his brothers in the church in Corinth to imitate him, as he did his best to imitate Christ.

That is the call of a disciple maker.  As we carry out ministry on Earth, as much as possible like Christ, we should have young people who are coming along with us in that ministry.  They will learn from us as we make our ministry accessible to them.

These verses confirm my suspicion that discipleship is active.  It doesn’t always involve books, classroom, and study.

As I continue my #servetogrow series in the coming weeks, please comment.  Let me know if you have thoughts or ideas on this subject.

If you want to read more about the rabbi-teacher relationship in Bible, here is a great article.

Can I graduate?

#servetogrow part 3

When I think back to what I learned about accounting in college, it was a bit inadequate.  I have barely used my accounting degree, but to the extent that I did, I had to figure out how to actually do the day to day work of book keeping and IRS filings.  We didn’t learn many specifics in the classroom.  It was a lot of theory.

I think a lot of college degrees are like this.  A businesswoman isn’t actually an entrepreneur until she puts her name on the line and works to build a business.  A lawyer has to get in a courtroom, and a plumber under a sink.

Looking at how local churches operate, members are pushed from one Biblical classroom to the next, rarely putting their knowledge to test in the real world.

But isn’t in the real world where the practical lessons and specific lessons are learned?

Most of my Christian friends want to take their faith into the world and share Jesus’ love with others, but they don’t know where to begin.

Start where the Apostles started, and fish for men.

While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
— Matthew 4:18-22 ESV

How do we fish for men?

We get over the fear of messing up, and we share our faith with others.

The good news is that the Gospel of Jesus is simple.  The truth of our sin, our need for a savior, His perfection, and His unfailing love for us can be understood by a child.  As “big people,” we have a tendency to muck it up with too many details.  We use big words and worry we don’t know enough theology.

Let me just put your mind at ease and tell you that if you have been born again, you have everything you need to graduate into the real world.  You are armed with a special weapon:  your testimony.

It is that simple.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’
— Matthew 18:1-4 ESV

When we actually go out into the world to fish for men, we will learn different discipleship lessons, more specific discipleship lessons.  You will learn how to fish in a way that will catch men.

Your special weapon, your testimony, will grow and become more powerful as you serve the Lord.

 

Missed other #servetogrow posts?

 

I like to include music on my blog posts.  One of my favorite artist, Andrew Bird, came out with a new album this week.  This song features Fiona Apple, who has a beautiful voice.  Their acting in this video is so much to watch.

Get out of the classroom

#servetogrow part 2

How did Jesus teach His disciples?  He didn’t put his carpentry skills to work and a bust out a dozen desks.  Instead, He said, “Let’s go.”

I believe the Lord still teaches OTF.  OTF, that’s “on the fly.”

If this is the case, why does 90% of our discipleship as a local church involve sitting down and taking notes?  Could we missing out on a big component of discipleship?  

I feel like I’m saying something a little bit controversial here.  If you have felt any hesitancy to accept #servetogrow, it might be because so few local churches are doing discipleship outside of a classroom.  Please set what usual churches do aside.  

Or your hesitancy might be because you interpret my #servetogrow idea as “works” based teaching.  I don’t intend to suggest that any works would save us.  I believe fully in the grace that God offers all of us, and I know that there is not a single physical ministry anyone could do that would make them worthy of His Throne.

But aren’t studying, reading, and praying verbs that could be considered works too?  Those church activities should set off your “works” based teaching red-flags as well.

I want to be clear that reading The Word is as necessary as eating and prayer is as necessary as breathing.  As Christians, we should be filling ourselves with His Word and His Spirit.  Without this preparation, no ministry is possible.

If you read through the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, you begin to see a pattern to Jesus’ ministry.  Jesus traveled from town to town, doing things.  He healed men, women and children.  He raised people from the dead.  He fed huge crowds of people.  He taught in stories called parables.  He preached the sermon on the Mount.  He welcomed the children to Himself.  He calms storms.  He gets alone to pray to His Father.  He dines with tax collectors and sinners.  

As Jesus was performing these miracles and acts of mercy, the disciples tagged along asking questions.  Sometimes they also got a little side lessons the Bible calls “being rebuked.”

A few times Jesus sends the disciples out on their own.  He gives them His authority to proclaim His kingdom and heal sickness.  Whenever He did this, He would send them empty handed, going out in complete faith.

Can you even image a bigger opportunity to learn lessons about God?

As His disciples, we can still go out empty handed to serve the lost, sick, and lonely.  Wouldn’t we learn from such an experience?

Last week, when I introduced #servetogrow, I said it was a theory that we grow spiritually by serving others.  I’ve been witness to something at my church, Citychurch, for a few summers now that I want to share with you.

Our ministry at Citychurch is seasonal.  We have different outreaches during different times of the school year.  We have spurts of meeting physical needs during the school year when children have holidays and school breaks, but the majority of our ministry is old-fashioned Bible teaching.  We have youth and pre-teen services, elementary aged Bible clubs, a preschool, and Sunday school.  You would think that during these times of the year, as a teacher in these programs, I would observe a lot of spiritual growth in our children and youth’s lives.  That isn’t what I’ve observed.  I’ve actually seen more spiritual growth during the summer months.  In the summer, our church is action-packed and busy with outreach.  Many of our pre-teens and youth are very active in these outreaches.  They help pack lunches, deliver on vans and bicycles, and assist with programs in the park for children.  It is during these times of outreach when our youth seem to make leaps and bounds in their ability to bear fruit.

During these times of service, the young people in our church are being mentored by the staff and volunteers.  They are putting their faith into action.  They learn OTF, and the lessons stick.

What about you?  Have you ever come back from a short-term mission trip, and said these words, “That trip changed my life?”  Have you ever learned something about the Lord as you were teaching others?  Have you served your community out of His grace, and realized you had been receiving His grace through that service?

In the coming weeks, I will be sharing some active commands the scripture gives us.  I believe that completing these actions is a huge part of your discipleship and how you should be discipling others.

 

 

I like sharing music, and I'm still on a Santigold kick.  Her new album, tho.  This song is a hilarious comment on the state of American culture.  My friends who've been to Ethiopia will recognize the influence of Ethiopian music, especially in the intro of the song.  I don't know about myself, but I can't get enough of this song.

#servetogrow

How do we grow spiritually?

Just answer that question in you mind for a minute or two.  Really think about it.  Think about how you have grown spiritually over the course of your life.  Has growth come during times of study, times of trials, times of prayer, times of listening, times of reading, times of working in ministry, times of serving the poor, times of serving your family, and/or times of teaching?  If you are like me, you would probably say yes to all of those times that have offered the opportunity to learn more about the God’s love for us.

I would like to propose a theory that, as I looked back and took survey of my spiritual life, I found that the most growth happened in either times of trial or times of serving others.  I learn things studying God’s Word, I definitely do.  I not negating the importance of His Word in any way, shape, or form.

So if this might be true, that trials and service bring fruitful times of growth, why wouldn’t we embrace those times.  We cannot and should not bring trials into our life.  God is in charge of that, and let’s keep it that way.  But we can take a proactive role in making service a big part of our lives.

I want to focus more of my writing about this idea.  Writing about it will help me as a writer try to find what is true.  As I do, I will be using the hashtag #servetogrow.  Please join in.  I need your help as a reader.  I need your feedback.  If you are instagraming pictures of your Kingdom work or sharing a post on Facebook or Twitter about you experience serving others, use the hashtag #servetogrow.  If you do that, I can find your posts.  I want to test my theory out.  I want to see God use your gifts in service and see your spiritual growth happen.

Today I also want to share a story with you that is a perfect example of growing closer to the Lord during service.

My friend Cassie Haney and her family are just beginning a journey as missionaries to Mexico.  When they gave this testimony at church, it brought tears to my eyes.  I know it will bless you heart as well.  Click over and read this.

 

Beautiful time of prayer as they prepare to leave on mission to Guadalajara. I got a little choked up, as a daughter of a daddy, when this sweet daddy was giving his blessing to his daughter, son-in-law, and 5 grandchildren to move 1,200 miles away to share God's Love with a whole new community of people. Pray for the Haney family in the coming weeks. What an adventure!

Beautiful time of prayer as they prepare to leave on mission to Guadalajara. I got a little choked up, as a daughter of a daddy, when this sweet daddy was giving his blessing to his daughter, son-in-law, and 5 grandchildren to move 1,200 miles away to share God's Love with a whole new community of people. Pray for the Haney family in the coming weeks. What an adventure!

The Haney family were so full of the Joy of the Lord because they were serving Him.  The woman spotted that and received joy also by giving to their family’s mission.

You don’t have to move to a different country to serve Him.  When you are intentional about seeking to serve, God will use your willingness where ever you are.

When God’s grace places us into the position of serving Him, we can give, receive, and truly experience the Joy of the Lord.

 

"And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful." - Titus 3:14 ESV

 

Each post I like to share a song I'm enjoying.  I love this new album by Santigold, and I love this song.  It's the bomb.