I’m continuing the lesson of what do I labor towards. I have found that I have often settled for spiritually nice conversations, but when I step back and look at the bigger picture all I see is something that was nice. How do I labor towards movement? When I read through the gospels, I am struck with how often Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven. A little over 100 times these phrases are used. Only twice, does Jesus mention the word church. As I sit and observe our Father’s heart, I am learning more about what it means to seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness. I am realizing that as believers it has become almost uncomfortable to talk about the Kingdom of God, a way of living as citizens of heaven. It seems that it is easier to live in a way to avoid offending people instead of filtering decisions through what might offend God.
There are two specific examples that have been helping me learn this lesson. The first is about a college ministry. There was a group of students that owned the vision, that were excited to take steps to see God do a work on their campus. It was great to learn how to help guide them, but not push. Yet I never taught them how to raise up new leaders. I never taught them how to cultivate a culture in such a way that there was a standard of living as a believer, a citizen of heaven, that would multiply themselves into the next group. Now within two years, what is left? There is a group who have nice activities yet no spiritual maturity and really no idea how to help another person grow spiritually. We can invite people to activity, but there seems a loss at how to invite people to Jesus.
The other example is about a student we will call Mary. She received Christ with joy and gladness. She began to grow. Yet she never learned how to feed herself. She never learned how ask life questions through the Scriptures. Now she has walked away from living a life in relationship with God. She has a positive attitude toward God and Christianity, she knows she has had an experiment with God. But she can’t feed herself.
What am I laboring towards? Am I willing to give up temporary feelings of success for a stronger foundation of disciple-makers? What steps can I take to see multiplication become part of our DNA rather than something that feels opposed? I want to live for the Kingdom of God and not for what will perish.
My flesh wants to avoid this conversation. Let me hid, escape, by numbed by entertainment. Let me rationalize my life. I need to create neatly wrapped packages to cover the areas of my life with general statements that are acceptable to this environment. I need to stay in step with the culture, then I will not lose any ground. I will keep up. And once I have this under control, that I can look at some of those questions and deal with some of that other stuff. I can handle this. Yup, my flesh wants to avoid this conversation. Aren’t I doing enough? I have made sacrifices, don’t I deserve a break, some recognition of what I’ve done right? I am doing right things. Haven’t I managed my behaviors well? Doesn’t my life look good, the good christian playing its part? Let’s through our checklist. Yup, do that, and that. I did that. Well, I can always improve with that, but this is a journey. Nobody expects me to be perfect. It’s okay for me to be in process. That’s why Jesus died right? So I’m doing alright. Oh flesh how you are so good to deceive me. Keep me blind. Keep me naive to the path you lead me on. I may struggle with this and that. I probably could show more self-control with what, but it’s under control. No need worry. Overall I am good. I got this. My intentions are right, good and pure. Okay, good. Got that settled. Just need to breath to move forward.
What? Did you someone say something? Spirit is that you? Ouch! Did you just poke me? What’s up with that? Aren’t you happy and well I am managing this life? Doesn’t it look good? What? You want to open up this package. Why? Because you love me. Spirit, we just wrapped it up. Don’t you like the ribbon? Did i hear you right? You don’t want it wrapped? Why? But that feels messy? Isn’t it better for people to walk into a clean house then to have my stuff lying everywhere? Huh, it’s that important to you. Well, sure I respect your opinion. But what if others can see inside? What if those questions I don’t know about are revealed? Or, what if those fears and emotions I don’t know how to deal with start spilling out? What will happen? I think we have done a good job keeping the lid on so why create a mess if we don’t have to?
We have to? You want to teach me something? Well of course I trust God. If I trust Him, I can open this box? I don’t understand. God wants me to be a good example and live well. Opening this box doesn’t do that. Ouch! I don’t like it when you poke me. Well of course I want to live in freedom. Then I have to open the box. Okay I don’t get it. But how about we do this. Let’s revisit this on Saturday. That way, if the box really needs to be opened, we can do that with no one around and have time to put it back together again. That’s a good plan right? What? Why? I’m not whining. You want to start now? heavy sigh. Well yes I trust you, I’m just nervous. Okay, well flesh we can do this. Let’s take a minute to prepare ourselves and create a strategy so we can feel okay about this. Okay, Spirit I think I am ready. But let’s move slow and start with the ribbon. What? You want me to wait. Oh okay, do you want to change your mind? No…ouch. What is that? You want me to open that one too? What? and that one? Okay now you are just getting carried away. Yes of course I trust God. But God said He would never give me anything that I can’t handle. What? That’s misquoting Scripture? Spirit you are just confusing me. You want me to let you open the boxes? I don’t feel good about this. Now I feel like you have created another box I have to wrap. I need order in my life and I can’t keep going with all this talking.
I just got back from church, thankful I went. I feel my own time with the Lord this morning was distracting. All these thoughts and pretend conversations were coming to mind w/ every member of my family. I finally cried out to Jesus, help me! I can see and explain past hurts, unresolved issues, wrongs that have been done, but to what end. where is peace for the mind? only in Christ. On this day, I felt like the Lord has brought to mind everything that only He can handle and deal with. As He hung on the cross and looked up to heaven, he said Father forgive them. What is it like to live with such compassion and awareness of eternity that you hold no emotion against anyone? a security in the Lord, an awareness of eternal separation from God, a love that goes beyond our comprehension. This morning, I felt like God asking me would you hold something against someone else b/c it makes you feel justified? There is so much I don’t understand. There are so many relationships that I do not have control over. The only thing I have control over is the choice of surrendering to Jesus and trusting Him with every emotion. That I would live with love, forgiveness and compassion, grace and mercy. Just as He loved, and is loving me, may I love others. Forgive me as I forgive others. I can say the Lord’s prayer so easily, but am I truly living it out? I am broken, imperfect and wanted to be justified. But who I am. At church after reading Mark 15 the pastor spoke from Romans 5.6-11. He started with a quote from John Stott-“Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us, we have to see it as something done by us.” In Romans it describes us as weak, ungodly, sinners, and enemies of God. Allowing the reality of my true nature a part from Christ to sink in allows me to desperately cling to the cross and be so grateful for the gift of salvation that was made possible on this day of remembrance when Jesus Christ willingly died for our sin and clothed us new.
The past year has continued to be a theme of learning how to pray. Talking to God, listening to God and developing confidence in this tool He created to develop a deeper relationship with Him. This past week I have been reflecting over Jesus’ teaching on prayer from Matthew 6. A common prayer that I have recited since childhood. A few thoughts that I am learning as I look at these words.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name.
Acknowledging who God says He is if the first and foremost filter that I must train myself to think through. He is God and there is no other.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
I always enjoy reading and coming across a familiar phrase in the Bible. I also enjoy taking a moment to see how the phrase was used in the context of what was going on. A popular phrase in school was and is “context is king.” You may remember that I have been reading through the Bible chronologically and it has been fascinating to track with the Israelites from a united kingdom to a divided kingdom and now from being taken to captive to being released back to their promised land. Here we have Nehemiah returning to Jerusalem to see that the wall of the city is rebuilt with a third wave of Jewish exiles. Nehemiah walked in a steadfastness that really has inspired me in the trust he had in who God was and what God had put in his heart. He knew he had to obey the task the Lord placed on his heart.
Governing the land, Nehemiah was quick to correct and defend God’s Word and God’s people. His courage inspired others to follow his lead in not cowering to the pressures of onlookers, but to continue to walk confidently in the Lord. As the people rediscovered the truth of God’s word they responded with eyes open and an awareness of far off the path of righteousness they had wandered. As Ezra read the word it says in chapter 8.3 that “the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.”
As the spotlight displayed their guilt and shortcomings, the people responded with grief over their actions and how their hearts and deeds offended God. And although a proper response to have a heart-felt awareness of how our sin effects God, others and ourselves, they were not to stay in grief. Because of God’s great mercy and love for us, God’s desire is for full restoration. To be restored seems to be more than being aware of what is wrong. Nehemiah instructed the people to stop mourning and to celebrate. To recognize the day as holy to the Lord and to feast and receive the renewal that God was offering. Verse 10 explains, “And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” The paragraph closes up with that the people departed with rejoicing because they understood the words that were declared to them. They understood God’s word and His heart. They were reunited in a right relationship with God by turning from their sin and receiving God’s forgiveness and restoration.
There is a great truth in the fact that “the joy of the LORD is my strength.” But there is a richer meaning to me after having reflected on what Nehemiah was going through when he expressed it. I am reminded of Psalm 51.12 after David’s repentance he looked to the LORD for restoration and cried out, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation.” This tie of experiencing the joy of the LORD that is beyond external circumstances has a tie with a repentive heart that has received forgiveness.
May the joy of the LORD be your strength.