Follow Me Heart and Soul

I am not a good follower.

That is a hard thing to admit, but it is true.  I have too many questions.  I’ve been described as “needing to have all my ducks in a row” before I act.  I want to calculate all possibilities and be prepared for anything.  I want no surprises that had not been anticipated and thought through.

That is why it is so easy for me to follow God!  Yes, there are times that I have my doubts and can’t see clearly, but I know that nothing catches God by surprise.  I have confidence and faith in His ability to see yesterday, today, and tomorrow with the same degree of clarity.  I have complete trust that if I listen to and obey Him completely, that He has my best interest in mind and each circumstance that I face while in obedience to Him is designed to “prosper not harm” me — even when I don’t see how at the moment.

As I think about this week’s study topic, “God Says I Am An Example”, I have to wonder how I’m doing at instilling that same faith and confidence in others as they watch meDo people see me following God so closely that they wouldn’t hesitate to follow me?  Does my leading show the same love, care, and concern for the welfare of others that God’s leading of me shows?

Monday’s text was taken from 1 Samuel 14 where we find the nation of Israel in dire straights.  Israel’s army consisted of 600 men with two swords between them facing the Philistine army who had been oppressing the Israelites for quite some time.  It is at this time that Jonathan, who has one of the two swords, decides something needs to be done.  The cat and mouse game of being teased and destroyed needed to end.

So, Jonathan makes a decision to go over to the enemy outpost and asks his armor-bearer to go with him — an armor-bearer without a sword!  Jonathan’s reasoning is quite simple and full of faith.  “Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf.  Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.”  This is where it gets hard for me.  It’s one thing for Jonathon to trust God and follow His leading.  It is another thing entirely for the armor-bearer to trust Jonathon and follow his leading.  I would be thinking, “Did you say ‘Perhaps!’?”  But that is just what he does.  I think his response says a lot more than first meets the eye.  He says, “Do all that you have in mind.  I am with you heart and soul.”  The outcome is incredible.  The two of them kill twenty of the enemy and it begins a panic that overcomes the entire Philistine army — “a panic sent by God”.  Victory is won because Jonathon follows God and says to his armor-bearer, “Follow me”.

“I am with you heart and soul” speaks deeply into how Jonathon could say, “Follow me,” and get a positive response from his armor-bearer.  The armor-bearer knew that Jonathon’s heart and soul was pursuing God.  God says that you and I are an example to others.  Our life calls out to people, “follow me”.  What kind of response we get often depends on what kind of life we are living.  I must constantly examine myself and see if I am living a life that “heart and soul” belongs to God.  If I am following Him “heart and soul”, then logic would say that someone following me “heart and soul” would actually be following God “heart and soul” because that is what they are seeing in me.

I am an example!  Am I a good example or bad?  That depends on what I am pursuing with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength.  If that sounds familiar, it should.  God says all of that — all of me — belongs to Him. 

I pray that as you and I live life, our example is pure because it flows from our heart and soul belonging completely to God.

What Am I Here For?

What was the purpose of thatWhy did that happen?  What am I here for?

These questions, and many more just like them, seem to constantly roll around our mind as we try to figure out reason and purpose.  So many times, we think we finally have it figured out, only to have something else happen that makes it clear we don’t really know.  How often do we turn to God and simply listen?  Not listening for the “why?”, but listening for the “what’s next?”.  Listening in order to trust more than to understand.  As we listen, more often than not, we will find that our feeble attempts to make sense out of, and explain, a situation falls short of being what really is.

I see this in today’s text from Acts 1:6-8,

“So when they met together, they asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?'”
“He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.'”

The disciples had been on a roller-coaster of emotions following Jesus.  They had experienced the highs and lows of learning and ministering.  They had been there when Lazarus was raised from the dead.  They had watched the crowds hail Jesus as their king and messiah.  They listened to the words of Jesus about His purpose on earth, and often just didn’t get it.  They fought and they argued.  They loved and they served.  They slept as Jesus prayed and they ran as He was arrested.  They heard the crowds cry, “Crucify Him!”  They watched as He was led up the hill and nailed to a cross.  They hid in fear and they doubted they would ever see Jesus again. 

Yet they did see Him again!  They walked with Him They talked with Him.  They ate with Him.  They rejoiced with Him.  And in the midst of all that, they tried to figure out the “why?” — the purpose behind all Jesus had gone through.  And so we come to the first chapter of Acts, to the last physical meeting of the disciples and Jesus here on earth.  The disciples come to Jesus asking about their take on what had occurred and what was to happen next.  And so they ask, I believe anticipating a yes answer — the only answer that would make sense out of what they had seen and heard.  “Jesus, is now the time you will restore Your Kingdom here on earth?”  “Do we finally get to see the fruit of what You’ve gone through, the results of all we have worked for?”  “The cost was so great, this has to be why!”

So, the response of Jesus probably comes as a surprise.  It shouldn’t have.  It is what Jesus had been saying throughout His ministry.  It was why He had invested time and energy into making disciples.  Jesus says, “No, this isn’t about restoring the kingdom here on earth, it is about you being my witness throughout the earth!”  There it is.  We know the ultimate purpose of the death, burial, and resurrection was to bring salvation to mankind, but did He really need to have disciples like He did to accomplish that?  The purpose — if the disciples were asking, “What am I here for?” — was made clear.  All that they had seen and heard, all they had endured and experienced, was to prepare them to be witnesses for Jesus to the ends of the earth.  Jesus had accomplished what He had come to earth for.  Now it was time for the disciples to begin doing the work they had been prepared to do.

How about you and I?  When life is full of joy, sorrow, challenges, fear, excitement, and everything else life throws our way, what do we do with it?  Often times, like the disciples, we try to make sense out of it using our own logic and wisdom.  Many more times, I think God would give us the same answer that the disciples got — you’ve gone through what you’ve experienced so that you can be My witnesses throughout the world.  Each experience we have in life gives us an opportunity to see Jesus at work in us personally.  Every incident has the potential to prepare us to be a better witness.  Our trials and our joys are not about us — it is all about Him!

Whatever we go through — when you and I try to figure it out, may the question constantly be at the top of our mind, “How does this help me be a more effective witness for Jesus?”  When we’re in the midst of life asking, “What am I here for?”, may we hear God saying clearly and directly, “You are My witness!”

Climbing the Ladder to Greatness

Ahh . . . Christmas.  That time of year when “peace on earth, goodwill toward men” prevailsFrom the streets to the malls . . . from the department stores to the supercenters . . . from the check-out lines to the parking lots . . . from office parties to family gatherings — wherever you turn, mankind is at its finest.

Okay, you may be thinking, “Where is this guy from?”.  While there are bright spots that can be found among people in the midst of the Christmas hustle and bustle — more often than not, the public response of people to one another is far less than ideal. 

While the result is far from ideal, it really shouldn’t be a surprise.  Much of the confrontation and tension of the season has its root in an age-old pursuit — the pursuit of greatness.  We don’t want to wait in line, we want to be first.  Wherever we are, it becomes all about seeking our place — a place that we are not willing to step back from to benefit another.  We need to move forward, not backward.  We get caught up in the clamor to determine “pecking order” in all of our Christmas gatherings.  We go to work parties, church functions, and family gatherings and try to figure out where we belong and how to “move up the ladder” to greatness.

As I mentioned earlier, this is an age-old problem.  A problem that we find existing throughout scripture and addressed by Jesus.  One of those times is recorded in Matthew 20 when the mother of James and John want special status for her sons.  Jesus responds by telling her it is not His place to grant her specific request.  The real response comes from Jesus as the other 10 disciples get word of this “special request”.  The Bible says the other disciples are “indignant”.  Their response does raise the question, “Why?”.  The response of Jesus indicates to me that they were probably “indignant” because they each wanted to be in a “top” position.  Matthew writes about it with these words in Matthew 20:24-28:

“When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers.  Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you.  Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.'”

You see, there is a ladder to greatness.  The only problem is that the vast majority of us get it wrong.  We are taught and believe that we obtain greatness by climbing to the top of the ladder.  Jesus teaches quite the opposite — we obtain greatness by climbing to the bottom of the ladder.  It is a ladder we climb down to serve others.  Not just any others, all others!

How Christmas would change if all Christians remembered this as they drove about this time of year.  If they thought of others and served them as they do business in the stores and as they attend various work, church, and family gatherings.  If each of us would climb down the ladder of success to reach greatness as defined by Jesus.

I pray that you and I would commit to climbing the ladder to greatness.  May we learn to truly serve this Christmas season.  May others know of Jesus and His great love because we are becoming great in the kingdom of God — great because we are learning to wholeheartedly serve God and the “least of these His brethren”.

I Am The Lord’s Servant

This week, my writings will look at another attribute of being a Christian — God says I am His servant! 

What first comes to your mind when you hear the word, “servant”?  Is it a positive mental picture, or a negative one?  In the American culture that I live in and write from, being a servant is not a popular goal.  As children go around a group stating what they want to be when they grow up, you never hear someone say, “I want to be a servant.”  Unfortunately, in the average life, good role models in being a servant are hard to find.  Those that do serve well are filled with humility that makes them shy away from attention or being noticed.  Others serve with a motive of being noticed and it often comes across as fake and self-serving — because it is.  Yet many others simply don’t serve.  It’s beneath  them.  They are too good, too important, too busy, to have the time or desire to serve someone else.

Even in the church, many times it is hard to find every-day examples of servants for the same reasons.  A genuine servant is often un-noticed and un-recognized.  Others serve with an arrogance and pride that serves themselves much more than serving others.  Yet, many simply do not serve.  Church after church that I have visited reflect the same problem.  Not a necessarily a lack of members or attenders, but a lack of servants.  You’ve heard it and seen it — perhaps even said it — right?

  • “What, me shovel snow and spread salt?  I thought we paid someone to do that!” 
  • “You want me to work in the nursery or teach a children’s class?  I’m too old, young, busy, or already “served” my time!” 
  • “You want me to serve communion and take up the offering?  I come to church to sit with my family!” 
  • “Visit the nursing home on a Saturday morning?  I work hard all week and deserve to sleep in!” 
  • “Give items to the food pantry and help make sure hungry people have what they need?  I work hard for what I have, so can they!” 
  • “Call and visit shut-ins, the elderly, and the sick?  I don’t have the time and I have nothing in common with them!” 
  • “Work a week of church camp so young people can learn about Jesus in a incredibly intense environment?  My vacation time is too valuable to waste doing that!”
  • “Walk across the room and say hello to a visitor or stranger or someone who looks down and lonely?  I don’t know them and wouldn’t know what to say!”
  • “Give up my rights, desires, and preferences to benefit someone else — someone I may not even know or like?  What planet are you from?  Let them accommodate me!”

I could go on, but hopefully you get the point and have even seen yourself in some of this dialogue — I know I have.  Serving is not natural.  Serving says that the needs of someone else are more important than mine.  Serving is about honoring and caring for the one we serve.  Serving seeks to be invisible while at the same time accomplishing everything the “master” desires.  A servant would never detract from or subvert the will and direction of his master.

That is why Mary’s response to the news that she was to carry and give birth to the Messiah, is so remarable.  It is the genuine response of a servant; “I am the Lord’s servant.  May it be to me according to your word.”  Wow!  Mary understood that as a follower of God, she was His servant.  It didn’t matter if the task seemed difficult, demeaning, questionable, or even impossible — whatever God asked her to do, she would do it.

What would your life and mine be like if we sought God in everything?  What if when the youth leader, director, or minister asked you to serve in the church nursery, your response is to God — “Lord, I am your servant, what do you want me to do?”  Or when you see that lonely and hurting person, you said — “Lord, I am your servant, what do you want me to do?”  Or in any of the other situations listed above or the myriad of possibilities encountered in life you and I said — “Lord, I am your servant, what do you want me to do?”  What if we said it, and meant it, and acted as a servant in obedience.

A servant of God seeks to please only his master.  I pray that you and I continually grow in our obedience as servants.  God says that I am His servant!  I pray that I constantly remember that and live up to His view of me.

I Have A Hope!

Knowing that God says I am His child helps me to see things in a proper perspective — God’s perspective.  Particularly when things are not going quite the way we would like —  when we’re not what we want to be — it is comforting to know that as God’s child, I have a hope.

One of the biggest struggles for Junior High students is that they rarely believe that whatever part of their body they don’t like at the time — and there is always something — will ever change.  They fear that they will always be too tall, too short, too awkward, too quiet, too loud, too “pimply”, too something that will cause them to be overlooked or mocked their entire life.  They think that what is has always been and there is no hope for change.

Many times, followers of Jesus end up with the same attitude.  The growth process of a Christian takes time and during those inevitable delays, it is easy for our adolescent faith to begin to feel hopelessEvery stumble feels permanent.  Every sin drives home a sense of failure.  Doubt begins to grow instead of faith.  It is at these times that we need a reminder of the hope we have as God’s child.

John puts it this way in 1 John 3:1-3:

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  And that is what we are!  The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.  Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.   But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.  All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”

John says that as God’s child, you will feel like a misfit because that is what you are.  You won’t fit into the world.  The world won’t know or understand you because they don’t know or understand our Father.  As children of God, we are adolescents.  It is not yet known what we will become.  Yet even with the unknown, we are assured that we will be like Jesus — the image of our Father. 

As we struggle with our identity and what we are becoming, we have hope.  This is a confident hope that our sin is dealt with and removed.  We are becoming like Christ — and will be like Him — so our hope is assured that we are purified because He is pure.  We can take courage in being God’s child as our hope puts to death and rejects sin and the work of evil.  God says that our hope in Him purifies us so that we accomplish deeds of righteousness and relationships of love.

As God’s child, I have hope because I know I don’t have to stay the way I was, or even the way I am.  My hope in God purifies and refines me into who I will become — like Jesus.

I pray that as God’s child, you recognize the hope you have.  May that hope compel you to grow up into the image of Jesus.

I Have An Example!

I’ve been writing this week about things that I have because I am a child of God.  Our study text today reminds me that as God’s child, I have an example! 

“Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  Ephesians 5:1-2

Whenever I am in an unfamiliar setting, I love to be with someone who is accustomed to the situation.  Someone who knows what to do and say and what not to do and say.  When I visit a new church to preach or share in some way, I pay attention to the people of that church and how they do things.  I watch them.  I study them.  I learn from them so that I can reduce my uncomfortableness and limit my embarrassment.  They become my example.  I follow their steps, their gestures, their words, their responses.  I become what I need to be because someone models it for me.

The Christian life should be like that.  Paul writes in his letters that people should imitate him as he imitates Christ.  That whatever people hear from him, whatever they observe or learn or receive from him, they should put into practice.  Paul understood the value of an example in living the Christian life.  In the verses above, he commands us as children of God to imitate our Father.  We have a perfect example of love that is seen in our Father, therefore we need to walk in the way of love.  This example of God, seen through Jesus, is one of giving and sacrificing our self for the benefit of someone else.

As God’s child, I have an example to follow.  The more closely I follow it, the more I look like I belong to my father.  I have a number of tendencies that people from my hometown recognize and immediately say, “You’re a child of your father.”  They know where I belong — what family I fit into because in many areas I follow the example of my father.    The bigger question when people observe me is, “Do they recognize I belong to the family of God?”  Am I walking in the way of love in a manner that resembles the example of my Father? 

As a child of God, you have an example.  Are you following it?  Can people see the family resemblance when they watch you?  I pray that you and I will “walk in the way of  love” as we faithfully follow the example of our Father.

I Have An Inheritance!

Today’s text in the daily questions for the “A View From The Top:  What Does God Say . . . About Me?” series seems to make two distinct statements that God says about me as His child.  My previous post, I Have An Obligation, covers the first statement and I will consider the second statement in this post.

As you read the following words, listen closely to what Paul says about life as a child of God.

“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.  The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.  And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’  The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”  Romans 8:14-17

Wow!  Did you catch it?  I have an inheritance!  Not just any inheritance, but an inheritance from God.  As a child of God, I am a co-heir with Christ.  The Spirit of God has freed me to live as a son because the Spirit has brought about my adoption as such.  As a son, I can have confidence in my inheritance — an inheritance I share with Christ himself.  I suffer in the sufferings of Christ.  I endure with the endurance of my Lord.  My inheritance is more than a future reward — yes, that is coming.  My inheritance includes taking on the characteristics of my Father. 

It is slow and often painful process, this becoming like my Father.  I’m not a natural son.  I’ve developed habits and tendencies that are not like my Father at all.  Yet, I watch Him.  I listen to Him.  I imitate Him because I want to be like Him.  And I’m not alone in my efforts.  He understands my weaknesses and my sinful nature — my flesh that wars against me.  He knows I need help and He provides it.  He gives His Spirit — a “down payment”, if you will, of the current and future inheritance that is mine.  His Spirit is transforming my mind into the mind of Christ and replaces my heart with a heart for God.  The Spirit has set me free from the slavery of sin and releases me from the master of destruction. 

Has God’s Spirit brought about your adoption as a child of God?  He wants you to be His child.  He longs for you to allow His Spirit to live in you and be who you are.  He has an inheritance for you — an inheritance that has the power to transform you into the image of Christ. 

I pray that you are a part of God’s family and that you have taken your adoption seriously.   May you live a life in the power of the spirit that seeks to imitate your Father and live like your co-heir, Jesus.  May you endure the family difficulties — the persecution and suffering — knowing that they are not worth comparing to the glory of the final inheritance.  I have an inheritance!  An inheritance that cannot be diminished by the number of people laying claim to it.  I pray that you also have this inheritance.

I Have An Obligation!

This week’s writings will focus on various aspects of God’s view of me as His childYesterday, I wrote about the right we have to become children of God.  As incredible as that right is, like every right that we claim, it comes with an obligation.  An obligation is the backside of a right — a side we would often just as soon ignore.

There is a statement that I was told by my parents countless times during my childhood.  It is, “Your rights only go as far as to the point that you are stepping on another’s toes, or infringing on their rights.”  Now I understand that there are times that we all need our toes stepped on.  We need them stepped on by a brother who is rebuking, correcting, or challenging us in love, not by the “rights” of someone else.  If I am exercising my “rights” in a way that is harming or restricting someone else in their rights, then I have overstepped my bounds — particularly when we are talking about our rights in becoming children of God.

Paul puts it this way when he writes about the power of God’s Spirit within us:

“Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation — but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it.  For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.”
“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.  The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.  And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.'”  Romans 8:12-15

Paul tells us that because of Christ dwelling in us through the presence of His Spirit, we have an obligation.  This is not a natural obligation to live according to my desires and wants.  That is an easy excuse.  We word it in many ways — “This is just the way I am.” . . . “I can’t help it, I have desires.” . . . “I’m just not a friendly person” . . . “You don’t understand what I’ve been through.” . . . and on the list could gojustification as to why we live according to an obligation to the flesh.

Paul says we have a different obligation — an obligation that comes from, and shows, that we are indeed children of God.  This is an obligation to live by the Spirit and in the power of the spirit, putting to death the “obligations” of the body.  This rejecting of the misdeeds of the body brings life because it shows that we are indeed children of God, being led by His Spirit.

Who are you giving the greater power in your life today?  Is it the sinful nature of the flesh or the presence of the living God whose Spirit brought about your adoption as God’s child?

I pray that as you experience the freedom of crying out to God, “Abba, Father”, you will embrace the obligation to live in the power and presence of the Spirit so that you may truly live.  As a child of God, you and I have an obligation.