Thursday, October 31, 2013

Why Planting Seeds is So Important

As October fades into the yuletide preseason, I continue to be stirred in a rather unique way.

If you’ve been a follower of my blog for long, then you’ve probably come to realize how part of my heartcry is to grow as a “minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me…to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations…” (Colossians 1:25-26 ESV).

However, in this day and age, arguably the hardest time to pastor in church history, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to believe this desire can be wholesomely satisfied.

Let’s face it: people are busy…very busy. And though many can supply a résumé to support the fact, it’s not like a piece of paper can mask how we prize personal ambitions over fellowship. Within Christian community, many claim to value balance, yet wear loaded planners like a badge on the sash of misaligned priorities, oblivious to the growing discrepancy between what is hoped for and what is realized. And the most alarming part isn’t necessarily the divide itself, but in the lack of awareness to it. Yes, fostering God-appointed places of influence should have a high place on the ladder of Spirit-led responsibility, but one should question if this crosses an idolatrous line when we rationalize the résumé into an excuse for unauthorized withdrawal.

Whatever the case may be, I get the feeling God isn’t smiling over the fact we’ve made it hard to connect with Him as well as other believers. I get the feeling it doesn’t amuse Him how we talk to others about our own busyness, as if the other side is foreign to the idea. And I get the vibe He isn’t applauding our consolidating tactics, where we substitute modern technology and online interaction for intimate connectedness. The simple truth is if you have a demanding calendar, you’re not in the minority. And as the redeemed church living in a hussle-bussle world, we should be placing a premium on quality over quantity, considering how the Word emphasizes excellence.

Regardless of how we feel about our pace and place, without steadfast prayer, it’s becoming harder to trust these days, not so much in the nature of God, but in people’s response to it, especially with so much ‘dis’ in the world: discouragement, distraction, disapproval, disappointment, discontentedness, etc. As a minister, often times, the challenge to trust God hinges on whether or not people accept His best, and though such a notion deserves correction, I can’t help but want to guide people into a prosperous position, where they can fully know and experience the presence of God, unraveling the mystery of transformation truths.

And it’s here where the temptation to give up is most intense. For I find it incredibly ironic how many believers distance themselves from church community based out of what is becoming a predictable blend of agenda, dissatisfaction and veiled insecurity. I understand and respect decisions rooted in yielded surrender and obedience; however, shielding our own sanctification while thinking church is merely a necessity instead of a privileged priority and mandate is not the answer. It's not about us being satisfied, but Him being glorified. And one of the ways we bring God glory is through the expansion of horizontal and vertical relationship inside and outside the church, even if it costs us convenience. Too many people are separating their interpretation of God's plan for them from biblical community and Christian fellowship; however, the Word doesn't justify hiding behind the gifts of God or living life in a way that reduces God's house to an extra-curricular activity. It's a given we all want to leave a legacy and know our purpose has meaning, but if it comes at the cost of forsaking God's best, then we need to re-evaluate who we're living for and how we're walking the talk.

For people like me, caught between the homebody on my left and the busybody on my right, it helps to meditate on what’s worth adhering to. For instance, community wasn’t designed for us to control or corral, as such responsibility belongs to God and God alone. Contrarily, our focus should center on how we tend the soil of our relationships and arenas of influence. In other words, achieving church community is not about rounding sheep into a sheep pen; it’s about planting seeds in the sheep pen! It’s not about providing a specialized service to a packed out sanctuary; it’s about sowing seeds into the places God takes us, regardless of personnel and statistics.

You see: planting seeds is applied physics in the spiritual – it’s about fostering the potential energy in others to perpetuate a kinetic Gospel. When we plant seeds, we not only acknowledge the providence of God, we extend it. We may not be satisfied by the quantity of seeds we’re given, but this doesn’t change the fact God is enough and His quantities are perfect for every season. At times, we may feel victimized by evasive personalities, flaky commitment and those fluent in undervaluing hearts, but if we choose to dwell on whatever is worthy, whatever is noble, whatever is pure (Philippians 4:8), than we can rest in knowing our calling have everything to do with planting seeds (a.k.a. depositing the greatness of God).

In Paul’s assessment on church community in 1 Corinthian 3, we’re given a snapshot on how we’re to understand our role in preparing the land for a God who gives increase, and the answer can be realized by the overarching themes at the heart of Paul’s letters. Before we can plant seeds effectively, we must first position ourselves to receive openhandedly. Often times, the strongest barriers set up on the front end of what start out as holy pursuits. If we separate our love of daily communion with outgoing encouragement, we risk a depositing source based out of a need for self-edification, as opposed to the heart.

When we receive and stake our trust in God, then we’re essentially believing in His unconditional grace and the freedom it manifests, which ultimately enables us to employ motion to truth and to connect revelation to heart change. Thus, when we stand on the word of 1 Corinthians 3:6-9 (see below), we realize we don’t have to worry about the outcome, because God specifically outlines our responsibilities. And since God allots boundaries to our stewardship, we don’t have to stress about the destiny of each seed’s final destination.

So while it may be easy to ponder the hot trends on people’s radars these days, we can rejoice in knowing it doesn’t define our mission, our value and call to sow light, life and love into the depths of mankind.

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.  For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. ” ~ 1 Corinthians 3:6-10 (ESV)

To be continued…

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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Walk the Cross

Last Sunday, we witnessed a video centered on the physical evidence of God's reality & nature (specifically God’s saving grace and restoration plan through the ark account).

Today we're going to focus on the spiritual evidence: a changed life - the greatest miracle this side of heaven.

In John 3, Nicodemus, a ruler and leader among the Jews and Pharisees, approaches Jesus and claims He must have come from God based on the signs and wonders worked through Him. In response, Jesus tells him: 

I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, that unless a person is born again (anew, from above), he cannot ever see (know, be acquainted with, and experience) the kingdom of God.”

In other words, Jesus was challenging Nicodemus to change his worldview and belief system by “being born again.”

Consider the parallels:

Before you are born, you are conceived – an internal phenomenon which ultimately develops into an external presence.

Before you are born again, you are created, destined and pursued. And the point of surrender (accepting Christ as Lord and Savior) is likewise an internal transaction. But like a baby being born, growing into the likeness and image of Christ, there needs to be a real, tangible testimony (the proof of perpetual change) supporting the decision to accept God’s redemption.

What is our testimony? It’s the innate heartcry of humanity: Yahweh saves (Exodus 6:3 reveals Yahweh to be the redemptive name of God and is partly connected to the term, 'Hosanna', meaning “God saves”). 

In prior meetings, we've discussed how our thoughts, our beliefs and our actions are living proof to whether or not we've accepted salvation (using the 3-B & 3-D principles: our beliefs determine our behavior which determine our becoming + our decisions determine our direction which determines our destination) and opened ourselves to sanctification (the process of being made holy, of being made like Christ). Thus, the question is not IF God's redemption is real; it's if God's redemption is real in you and if it is at all meaningful in your life.

In order for Yahweh to be resonating in you, then God’s redemption must be an active experience. Often times, we inadvertently keep transformation at bay by keeping the cross locked within the mental cave of Christian history. We know it happened, but our perspective on it is completely oriented in the past. Yet, if we want to live with a Spirit-filled countenance and contagious faith, we have to look at our relationship with the cross differently.

Have you ever stopped to wonder: What maintains my transformation? Am I a true believer just because one day I decided to accept Jesus in my heart or is it based out of the lifestyle I choose to embrace? Although we could delve into a dense debate concerning eternal security, we can steer clear of it when believe the following: If you’re following after God, then will show…and you will know you’re perfectly secure in your salvation…in your eternal destination.

Truth is: Transformation is only transformation if it’s an on-going, transparently evident reality.  

2 Corinthians 3:17-18 – “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (emancipation from bondage, freedom). And all of us, as with unveiled face, [because we] continued to behold [in the Word of God] as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are constantly being transfigured into His very own image in ever increasing splendor and from one degree of glory to another; [for this comes] from the Lord [Who is] the Spirit.”

Jesus often reminded his disciples how finding life required dying to ourselves. Paul summed this up beautifully in Philippians 1:21 - "To live is Christ and to die is gain." How do we bridge the gap? The cross. How do we know we’re “walking the cross”? If change is the one constant in our life. Why? Because it's our testimony – the real, tangible proof of God’s ongoing craftsmanship in our lives.

Power Up: We need to stop trying to walk the line. God didn’t create life to be a tightrope experience; He didn’t design us to think about how far we can go in terms of satisfying our own desires our way. He didn’t build this world for us just so we can define and chart our own course according to what makes us feel good about ourselves. There is a matrix out there, composed by a cunning enemy, seeking to deceive you, seeking to pollute your mind into believe you’re the center of your reality. The “matrix” wants you to walk the line, and surely doesn’t want you to believe the truth: we were made to "walk the cross" as the roadmap and pathway to enduring change.

The question is: Will we walk through the door? Will we allow God’s work to be evident in our life? Or will we take the “blue pill” and keep it in the closet, the rear-view mirror and on the backburner? If you’ve accepted Christ a long time ago, but the cross is nothing more than history to you, then so will be the change you’re desperately looking for. But if you take the “red pill” and make the decision to “walk the cross”, then you’ll start to understand why we’re called to be like Christ.

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Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Devil's Playground

Have you ever had a great day almost derail after a blindsighted brush with a self-justifying spirit, a backhanded stab or a condescending remark? Have you ever had a solid rhythm going only to be cut short by the whiplash of an impulsive assault, like an unexpected downpour on a bright, autumnal day?

No doubt, these precipitous moments can have the most sharpening and defining effects on our character and the way we believe. Yet, despite what our default affinities may be, sometimes it’s perfectly healthy and necessary to wrestle with the lies we collide with.

Such was the realization after a recent happenstance, when my leadership was tactlessly grilled by an extreme case of overprotection. Having aced my part in the first encounter by means of a cordial greeting and genuine smile, the temptation for offense came knocking once my hand drew the spat of a person bursting into a flame of finger-pointing. And though some understandable concerns were mixed in, what started as a friendly gesture suddenly became an insurmountable firestorm I felt completely defenseless against.

In the midst of awkward animosity, I began to shut down, as my authority became nothing more than a heaping mass of carved meat. Having taken the day’s queue from my own authorities, I was now taking the hits for allowing high-school students to minister at the “devil’s playground” – a term or place I had never heard of before until it was abruptly brought to my attention.

As my poker face solidified, my heart and soul continued to break. Deep down, I started to cry out:
What sense does it make to apply such a negative label on any location? Who are we to turn cheek against the downcast, the lost and the suffering for the sake of our own fear and convenience? Why do we act so condescending towards the people and places who need Jesus the most? Are we afraid of what’s behind the curtain? Are we scared of being insulted for what we believe in? Are we apprehensive to lose what we think is our innocence on behalf of those who sincerely believe they have none? How could anyone ‘hate’ on someone simply trying to do what Jesus did or a people who desperately need a healing touch directly ministered to them?

After all, Jesus was quite familiar with the “devil’s playground” of His day. When we look at Matthew 9:10-13 and Mark 2:13-17, we find Jesus being accused of associating with vagrants and vandals:

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him. And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ But when he heard it, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” ~ Matthew 9:10-13 (ESV)

He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus, sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him,’ Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him. And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples,’ Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’” ~ Mark 2:13-17 (ESV)
I get the feeling Jesus loved hanging out with the poor, the outcast, the lonely, the prostitutes, the drunkards, the tax collectors, the Samaritan “dogs” and yes, even murderers. Why? Because Jesus did not come to live, He came to die. His death didn’t start at the cross. Contrarily, He was daily dying to the very things we try to uphold every day by constantly putting His reputation and safety on the line. But did He care about how others thought about Him? No way! For Jesus was locked into what the Father was saying and doing, continually flowing in the current of His guidance. This allowed Jesus’ heart for benevolence to pour out from His very nature, as opposed to moral obligation. And it’s here, at this place of humility, where we should all aspire.

So, there I was, walking with a smitten swag as our team, joining with a chorus of other groups, serving as the hands and feet of Jesus, modeled service and love to a population of poverty-stricken vagabonds. There I was, working with a willing heart, eager to restore purity into a community shattered like the broken glass we were treading upon. There I was, contributing my portion, my offering to an awesome God, only to have my confidence crack upon the sidewalk, wondering why a complete stranger, twice my age and of the same faith, would lash out without giving me a chance to be heard.

As I drove home, I realized the best move was to forgive and move on, but as I placed pain on the altar, the Lord began to expand the tent pegs of my understanding.

Wisdom does not imply we filter decision-making through a masked perception of the foreseen. Sometimes, we’re not going to know all we’re getting into when we obey God. Sometimes, our hands are going to get dirty. And sometimes, we’re not going to have the “luxury” of cookie-cutting God’s mission into a ration we’re comfortable with. Yet, if we’re called to live submissively, with open hands, then why do we occasionally associate yielding to naïveté?

God cannot be fooled. When we hide behind past-centeredness and throw present grace to the wayside, we ultimately disallow God to be the governing shield in our lives. And when we step into a role only He can fill, we begin to dilute our capacity to see how He sees. With limited vision, it shouldn’t surprise us if we fail to realize the devil’s playground is often ground zero for God’s best restoration plan. And though we may not be called to involve ourselves with every single operation of Kingdom expansion, we shouldn’t disqualify ourselves when, in fact, God has qualified us to be vibrant extensions of His compassion.

Maybe you feel stuck between a rock and hard place, not realizing the rock in your life is actually a blind source of false comfort. Why not ask God to roll away any manufactured boulder of fear and compromise in exchange for stronger faith and courage? Just because you don’t feel ready to be an ambassador, doesn’t mean you’re not ready to be one. Just because you're given spiritual gifts, doesn’t mean you have to hide behind them in order to self-preserve.

So let's ask ourselves what is shaping our concept and application of wisdom and obedience, in hope for a more pronounced refinement of these holy qualities. Because when being like Christ isn’t easy, we can, at least, know we're doing something right.

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