Thrown Out, Left Out, or Sent Out (part 3)

Thrown Out, Left Out, or Sent Out?

Part 3 – Sent Out  

In Part One of this series of articles, I introduced the concept of three major approaches to occupational ministry change that can be seen in Biblical example and in churches today.  In that first post, I wrote about the change method of being Thrown Out.  This is a harsh practice born out of arrogance and pride.  While it causes much hurt and long-term issues to deal with, God has an incredible way of picking up the pieces and putting them back together when a Thrown Out person turns to Him in complete humility and trust

In Part Two, I wrote about being Left Out and the issues that come from this approach to change.  While gentler than Thrown Out, Left Out still leaves people hurt and disillusioned.  Even in this, a consistent pursuit of God can transform a less than ideal situation into something that accomplishes great things for the kingdom.  When faced with being Left Out, we must hang on tightly to our trust and obedience to God.

As I finally get around to writing part three, it is with great pleasure that I can say there is a better way!  God has used, and will use, Thrown Out and Left Out to accomplish His will rather than allow them to defeat His purposes.  It is possible to learn great and valuable lessons through being thrown out or left out, but let me write of a more excellent way — Sent Out!

As I thought about this series of writings, I kept thinking of the New Testament church and how God used these various methods to accomplish the spreading of the gospel.  Yet as I considered the New Testament itself — the content of the writing, the planting of churches, and the equipping of young evangelists — I couldn’t help but notice that this one technique had a greater benefit in the kingdom of God for all involved.  It is a process that began with Jesus as He implored His followers to “pray to the Lord of the harvest to send forth workers into His harvest fields.”  As they did just that, He answered their prayers by sending them out in pairs to carry the message of the kingdom of God.  (Matthew 10 & Luke 10)

And then there is the following text from Acts 13:1-3:

“Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers:  Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.  While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’  So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.”

Here we have the early Christians worshiping God and listening to Him for direction.  As they worshiped and fasted, God spoke to them through His Spirit about a work that needed done.  Their response is to seek God further in prayer and fasting, leading Barnabas and Saul to be Sent Out. 

I love this approach!  Barnabas and Saul went on to accomplish the work God had for them through the sending out of them by the Christians at Antioch.  They were going with a purpose.  Not only did they know that God was behind it — it was a work to which He had called them — they also knew a group of believers were backing them as well.  I don’t think we can accurately estimate the power of being Sent Out.  The hurts, fears, and doubts of Thrown Out and Left Out are completely out of the picture.  Instead, you have strength, faith, and confidence, knowing that you have a job to do that someone else believes that you can do because God has called you to it.  We see this as Paul and Barnabas travel from place to place boldly proclaiming the gospel of Jesus.  We see it in Paul’s writings as he instructs, challenges, and calls Christian believers to walk in a manner worthy of their calling in Christ Jesus.

I thank God that I have finally experienced the joy and pleasure of being Sent Out by a group of people.  It has been remarkable to watch God work to bring about this change of ministry I went through a couple of years ago.  In many ways, it seems like the script was taken directly from the passage in Acts above.  In a time of worship and prayer, God called me to a greater involvement in prayer with Impact Ministries International.  I had already experienced being Thrown Out and Left Out in ministry and just knew there had to be something better.  And so I prayed and I fasted.  I went to the elders of the Deer Run Church of Christ where I was on staff at the time and asked them to join me in seeking God’s direction and timing for His purposes in my life of ministry.  After several months of meeting and discussing with each other — but more importantly, with God — we all knew God was calling me into this prayer ministry and giving them the opportunity to partner with me and see that I was Sent Out well.  They responded to God’s leading and continue to stand with me, giving me strength, faith, and confidence to do the work God has called me to.

Sent Out — it is a more excellent way!  As you serve others in the name of Jesus, I pray that you are one who is Sent Out.  Even if no one else has acknowledged it, you have been Sent Out.  Jesus said to His followers — to you and I if we are His followers — “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:18-20)  You and I have been Sent Out.  We have been given the authority we need to share the message of the gospel.  Yes, it is much more pleasant when people participate in sending us out rather than throwing us out or leaving us out, but regardless of the actions of people, we are Sent Out!

I pray that you take seriously the fact that you have been Sent Out by God.  May He bring healing to you in the times that you are Thrown Out and Left Out by people.  I pray also that God will help you to be one who participates in others being Sent Out, rather than being a part of someone being Thrown Out or Left Out.  May Jesus be honored as we go about the work that He has called us to.

Thrown Out, Left Out, or Sent Out? (part 2)

Thrown Out, Left Out, or Sent Out?

Part 2 – Left Out  

In Part One of this series of articles, I introduced the concept of three major approaches to occupational ministry change that can be seen in Biblical example and in churches today.  In part one, I wrote about the abrupt transition of being thrown out.  This is a harsh way of accomplishing change.  The short-term gains rarely, if ever, outweigh the long-term hurt, disillusion, and bitterness that forms on both sides of the “thrown out” transition.  It is not a Biblical model of how Christians ought to treat one another.  In fact, the Biblical examples of ministry changes brought about by being “thrown out”, all involve non Jesus-followers versus Jesus followers.  How has the American church culture gotten to the point that we can tell a fellow believer, based solely on our personal preferences, to “Get Out!”?

Okay, long introduction and recap simply to bring us to part 2.  A seemingly gentler approach is a ministry change brought about by being left out.  Left Out has a wide range of causes and influences and is often closely related to the ministry change method of Walk Out.  Left Out is a hard issue to address because it comes from either party, and often both parties, to a ministry change. 

A Biblical example of being left out is found in the relationships of Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark.  Let’s look at it as it is written:

“Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.’  Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work.  They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company.  Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord.”  Acts 15:36-40

It is a familiar story.  In most cases of being left out, there are actions of betrayal and abandonment — whether real or imagined — that leave a person isolated and no longer belonging to a group he once thought he was part of.  A choosing of sides takes place, followed by a parting of ways, and then you find yourself somewhere different and unexpected — wondering why it came to this.

As I stated earlier, you rarely find Left Out without his close cousin, Walked Out.  In the text above, we see Walk Out show up more than once!  The obvious one is pointed out for us in the text.  We read that John Mark had walked out on Paul, Barnabas, and company during an earlier “missionary” trip.  The other isn’t so obvious, but Paul and Barnabas walk out on each other.  Whatever discussion that takes place between them comes to a climatic end as they part company and go their separate ways.  The striking difference between “thrown out” and “left out” is the motivation.  Thrown Out is generally motivated by anger, pride, and arrogance.  Left Out is more subtle and driven by emotions of hurt, betrayal, and isolation.

Yet in this story, we see how God was able to use the hurts of Left Out to bring about good in this ministry change.  By Barnabas insisting that John Mark go along and Paul insisting that he doesn’t, two missionary teams are developed to take the message of the gospel to a greater number of people.  Being left out hurts, but God can use that to accomplish His will when we stay surrendered to Him.  The emotions of Left Out aren’t so deep and vibrant as those of Thrown Out, so the healing and reconciliation is often easier and more complete.  That is “the rest of the story” of the text above.  As Paul is imprisoned and near the end of his life, he writes to Timothy and asks him to come and to “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:12). 

When you find yourself entangled in the complex maze of Left Out and Walk Out, know that while it is not the best situation, God can use it for great good.  Also remember that God has reconciled us to Himself to give us the ministry of reconciliation.  I pray that you and I would be mindful of those we have left out, those who feel left out, and those who walk out.  Let us carry with us, and to them, the message of reconciliation and usefulness.

. . . next up, part 3 – Sent Out

Look! No Hands!

Look!  No Hands!A generation ago, I would often challenge myself to see how far I could ride my bicycle without using my hands.  Perhaps you have done that, or still do.

I have to admit, there was generally no good reason for why I would do that other than to say that I could.  This was most effective with an audience.  To be able to call out, “Look!  No hands!”, and have people stop what they were doing and watch.  The longer I could go, the longer they would watch.

As I thought about this week’s topic, “We Are the Body of Christ”, I couldn’t help but wonder how often we do the same thing as Christians.  We want attention, so we ride through the Christian life shouting out, “Look!  No hands!”, hoping that someone notices what we are doing and focuses their eyes and thoughts on us.  We say, “Look how impressive I am.  I don’t need the hands, or the eyes, or the feet, or whatever other part God has placed in the body.  I can do this without them and then I get all the credit.”  While not saying any of this out loud, we even go so far as to say, “I don’t even need the head.  I’ve got this all figured out on my own!”

We do it even though we know what eventually comes next.  I never could succesfully finish a “no-handed” bike ride without using my hands.  While I could ride long distances, eventually I had to choose.  Do I give in and use my hands or do I crash?  The conclusion for that is the same as for life — either learn to use the parts of the body God has put into place or we crash!  As hard as we try, we eventually reach a point where we must allow the head to control all of the parts of the body for the good of the entire body.  If we fail to do that, a crash is on its way.

How often does pride get in our way and keep us from being a body where “each member does its part”?  How much do we limit ourselves as the “body of Christ” because we refuse to allow each part to do the work God created it to do?  What will it take to bring complete surrender to the headship of Christ so that each part of the body receives accurate instructions and accomplishes them effectively as part of a healthy body?  Why is it that even in the church we struggle getting past our desire to be seen and noticed when we know it is Jesus who ought to be evident in our assembly?

I pray that as the body of Christ, you and I would value each part as we allow and equip every member of the body to be used by God to accomplish His purpose and will.

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.

All Or Nothing!

This week’s study in the Deer Run “View From The Top: What Does God Say?” series is, “God Says I Am A Lover of God”.

Our texts that we are using for daily reflection and discussion have been great, but here it is Friday and I’ve not yet written about any of them.  If I could blame my schedule, or simply the fact that I am having a hard time re-establishing the habit of writing, it would be easier.  It goes deeper than that.  I’ve sat down at the computer each day as I’ve gone through the daily scriptures and questions, thinking I would write about the truths God revealed to me that day.  Yet, there I sat and nothing was written.

Each day, that question would rise in my mind, “Why haven’t you written?”  I couldn’t answer it.  I’m still not sure.  It may be my inner desire to not write some glib words about loving God simply because that is the study topic this week.  It may be saving me from sounding hypocritical — it’s easy to write about loving God, but am I doing it?  It may be out of an inner wrestling of decision –does God really have all, or does He have nothing?

In the midst of it all, the words of Jesus to Peter, “Do you love me?”, kept standing out in my mind throughout the week.  My answer sounds so Peter-like, “Of course I do!”  And God’s response sounds so Jesus-like, “Then do something about it!” 

Do something!  Do what?

“Feed My lambs.  Take care of my sheep.”

But, I love You!  I don’t particularly like your lambs.  Your sheep — well, they actually scare me.

“So what?  You can’t do the greatest command, love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and not do the second — love your neighbor as yourself.”

And then it hit me.  It’s the all or nothing dilemma.  All is so inclusive and exclusive that it leaves nothing out.  I can’t love God with ALL my heart and still have something else taking part of it.  All doesn’t leave room for other things.  All requires absolutely everything — nothing is left out, excluded, or hidden.

So, what about the sheep?  If I love God with the “all” kind of love, there is nothing left for the sheep?  No.  What is left for the sheep is God’s love in and through us.  That is the second greatest command, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  It is given in conjunction with the greatest command to Love God with ALL.  When God doesn’t simply have first place, He has the only place in my heart, mind, soul, and strength, then the love required to care for His sheep cannot be mine — mine is all given to God.  It must be His!  It is His love that rejoices, cares, cries, ministers, and serves the people around  me.  It is not even the overflow of my love for Him.  That still all belongs to Him.  It is the overflowing grace and mercy of His love for me that is to be poured into the lives of others.

It is all or nothing.  If I don’t love God with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength, I will not experience the fullness of God’s love to express to my neighbor.  If God doesn’t have the “all” of my love, the sheep get left out because I’m tired, selfish, greedy, uncaring, poor, or busy.  True love — God’s love — can only flow accurately from me and be expressed to others if He is all I love.  If I don’t love God with “all”, then the people around me end up with nothing because personally I’m bankrupt in the love department.

I pray that God has my all and your all.  May we hold nothing back so that His love and His Spirit can completely fill all the rooms, corners, and hidden areas of our life.  I am a lover of God.  God, help me to be a faithful lover of you.

What Does Your Work Say?

How would someone observing you describe your work?  More importantly, what would they say about the results of your work?  What are you accomplishing?  What does your work really say?

My guess is that most of you reading this have struggled with these questions and others like them.  We want purpose and meaning out of the things we devote our time to.  For most people, the work they do for a living has a tendency to take up the most significant amount of their time.  But deep down, do we really want our job defining who we are?

I don’t think so!  I mean, my job is directing prayer ministry within an international campus ministry organization and I don’t even want to be defined by that.  It’s not that I pray, or someone changes tires, or someone else teaches school, or raises their family, or whatever else it might be, that holds the real significance.  The real significance comes when we use whatever tasks we face to bring glory and honor to Jesus.

Paul mentions this when he writes to the Thessalonians and lets them know that he is constantly praying for them.  It is their work, labor, and endurance that stand out and get the attention of Paul.  Not so much what they were doing, but what their work said to all who observed.  Paul writes:

“We always thank God for you and continually mention you in our prayers.  We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.  The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia — your faith in God has become known everywhere.  Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what happened when we visited  you.”  (1 Thessalonians 1:3-4,7-9)

The work, labor, and endurance of the Thessalonians became a model for the entire region.  People everywhere could look at them and see how to put into practice the gospel of Jesus that was being preached.  When they turned to God, their lives were transformed and nothing would be the same again.  All it took was watching and listening to them and you would see the change that had taken place and become “infected” yourself.

So how do we experience that kind of a change so that our work , whatever it is, proclaims the transforming power of Jesus?  The key can be found in six words that we are familiar with separately, but rarely consider together.  Work, labor, and endurance are terms we are likely familiar with and don’t really care for or embrace all that willingly.  They are not things that we often rejoice over or long for more of — at least not until they are missing completely from our life. 

Yet Paul takes each of these words and connects it with a word that unlocks the incredible power of transformation.  Faith, love, and hope — words that we are quite familiar with from Paul.  Yet words we rarely connect with work, labor and endurance like Paul does.  The gospel came to the Thessalonians, “not simply with words but also with power” because their work was connected to faith, their labor was connected to love, and their endurance was connected to hope.

What does your work say?  Is your work, labor and love being done with faith, love, and hope in order to unleash the power of the gospel?  I pray that your work and my work says quite loudly that we are workers for God.  May people see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven and say of us, “your faith in God has become known everywhere”.

Who Are You Working For?

As you consider the title question, Who Are You Working For, I imagine that a number of answers could probably come to mind.  The natural first thought is, “My employer — the person, company, or entity from which I draw a paycheck.”  Perhaps you even think a little deeper, considering the people that are the reason you work.  Maybe it is a spouse, family, children, parents, or someone that you have a desire to provide for so you would say, “I’m working for them.”  Maybe it is yourself.  Not that you are necessarily self-employed, but you are working so that you can have the things you want.

Sometimes it is easy to miss the Biblical instruction about our work ethic because the writers use language and terminology that our American culture — and much of the world — isn’t intimately familiar with, or we simply avoid considering it.  Paul, for example, consistently addresses how slaves ought to react to their masters and how masters ought to treat their slaves.  It is as if we come to those passages and we just skip over them because we are neither slave or master.  In doing so, we miss some valuable lessons that could be ours if we better understood how the principles being taught apply to each of us today.

For example, Paul’s writing in Colossians 3:22-4:1 begins, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters . . .”.  Instead of skipping over this section until we find something we think applies, why don’t we consider how Paul might have written this part of the letter if he were writing to today’s culture.  Perhaps something like this:

Employees, obey your earthly employers in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.  Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human employers, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.  It is the Lord Christ you are serving.  Those who do wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism.  Bosses, provide your employees with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Boss in heaven.

Changing a few words so that I can see myself more easily doesn’t change the principles that God wants us to get.  This passage isn’t a Biblical mandate for, or against, slavery.  It is a Spirit breathed teaching on how God wants us to see the work we do.  Even when “forced” to do a task we don’t like, God says to do it with sincerity and reverence for Him.  How often does an employer give instructions that we don’t like and we mutter under our breath and mock our boss the entire time we carry out the task?  That wouldn’t be “sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord”, would it?  We get sidetracked so easily from the Biblical principle, “whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord”.  What would life be like if Christians everywhere actually lived this principle consistently?  What would your life, and my life, be like if we put this teaching into practice daily?

I can’t help but think of the contrasts I have noticed at a local Taco Bell that I’ve been known to frequent.  I actually hadn’t been to this particular location for quite some time.  It simply had gotten to the point that it wasn’t a pleasant experience.  Oh, the food was good and the customer service was even okay.  I couldn’t stand the fighting that was constant behind the counter and in the kitchen.  If there were any Christians that worked there at the time, it wasn’t obvious.  They definitely hadn’t applied the above verses out of Colossians to their situation at work.  The managers would be yelling at the employees about work needing done and the speed in which it wasn’t being accomplished.  The employees would be yelling back at the managers about anything and everything — it didn’t have to even be work related.  Both sides, when the other would turn away and do something, would mock each other to anyone who would pay attention.  Needless to say, it only took a couple of visits with that going on before I decided I really didn’t need Taco Bell that badly.

I ended up back there a few weeks ago after a six month or so break.  I couldn’t believe the difference!  Everyone was working together — from employee to manager.  The words being spoken between them were words that were helpful and encouraging.  Requests were made of one another and I don’t think I heard any demands.  The normal “standing around, that’s not my job” attitude seemed to be missing.  There was an overall willingness to pitch in and do whatever needed done.  Taking food orders, cleaning, filling orders, taking out trash, or whatever else needed done, simply got done with no complaint.  The shift supervisor?  She’s a Christian creating an atmosphere where everyone is doing their work for God, not for men — whether they know it or not. 

Living out this teaching from Colossians 3 does make a difference.  It is so radically different from the way the world typically operates that it stands out and can’t help but be noticed.

In whatever we do, I pray that you and I would work at it with all our heart, knowing it is the Lord we work for.

Work That Counts!

I wrote the following as a church newsletter article in March 2002 and previously posted it as “Work That Really Pays!”  The verse is today’s text in our “View From The Top: What Does God Say?” study, so I’ve just copied my old writing here as a reminder.  -tom   

“Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm.  Let nothing move you.  Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”  1 Corinthians 15:58

Does your work make a difference?  Do you ever end the day feeling that all of your efforts were a waste of time?  How often do you wonder what you are really accomplishing in life?

The Bible gives a simply stated solution to living a life that counts.  We find it in many places, including the verse above.  The problem, as in many Biblical truths, comes in the application.  It is easy enough to read a command, “always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord”, but it is a completely different thing to actually live it out each and every day.  We read along in our Bibles and see the word “always” and assume that this must only apply to those who work in full time professional ministry.  However, the context of this verse indicates it is meant for all believers who have the hope and assurance of a ressurection of the dead.  That is the “therefore” part of the verse.  Since death has been defeated and we have the assurance of life eternal with Jesus, we know our work is never in vain when it is the work of the Lord being done.

Teaching, serving, giving, sharing, cleaning, etc., are all things that are very necessary to the work of the Lord continuing within the local church.  The work of the Lord is also done wherever you are when you take seriously the Lord’s command to make disciples.  When you devote your life to making disciples, you truly “lay up for yourself treasure in heaven”.  As you live a life committed to sharing the gospel of Jesus, you will have found work that really pays

May God bless your work for Him.