Thursday, December 1, 2016

All Things To All People

"A poet has written, 'The desire to feel loved is the last illusion: let it go and you will be free.'"  ⥋ Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel.

The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread. ⥋ Mother Teresa

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.  For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?

                                    Luke 9:23-25.

This week, yet again, God set us on an unexpected course and brought us to an unexpected crossroad. The crossroad is familiar enough.  But despite its familiarity there is something unsettling that takes place -- that must take place -- every time we find ourselves there.

In one direction is the world.  In the other direction is Jesus.  And, Jesus demands that we choose to follow Him or to follow the world.  We are given the freedom to choose -- but choose we must.

The enemy of our souls, too, is familiar with this crossroad.  And he will do everything possible to confuse us.  As we contemplate which way to turn, Satan tells us that the easier path or the more comfortable path leads to Jesus too.  "We don't really have to die to ourselves," he whispers in our ear.  "God has put these desires in our heart.  Why would the same God who gave you the desire to be loved, to be noticed and to be significant ask you to deny these things?  You deserve to be loved by other people, don't you?  You need to be loved by other people, don't you!  You deserve to be happy!"

The world tells us that if we try to be "all things to all people" we will cheat ourselves out of happiness and peace.  But the Bible tells us that "being all things to all people" is the mark of a disciple.  We will not be known for how much we are loved by the people around us, but for how we love others.  We will be known by our love for one another -- and because we love like Jesus.  John 13:34-35.

If we look at the end of each of the Gospels we see from slightly different angles the mission that all followers of Jesus have in common.  It is the mission born of love for God and for other people.

In Matthew, the mission is presented straightforwardly, and may seem simple enough.  We are to "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 all Jesus commanded.  Matthew 28:19. 

In John, we get a sense of the peril we face in preaching the gospel -- of the sacrifice of our own life that will be required.  Jesus tells Peter that loving Him will mean feeding His sheep.  But, on the heals of this directive Jesus said to Peter "[t]ruly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.”  Jesus said this to show Peter what kind of death he would experience to glorify God.  After this stunning revelation Peter was left with two simple words -- “Follow me.”  John 21:18-19.

Here's how you will die, now follow me!  What a compelling invitation.  It was an invitation that Peter could never have accepted based merely on an intellectual understanding of Jesus.  It was an invitation that made sense only for someone who actually experienced Jesus.

The end of the Gospel According to Mark, too, has Jesus instructing the apostles to preach the gospel to the nations.  And, Jesus tells them that "these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”  Mark 16:17-18. 

Finally, Luke records that Jesus explained to the disciples how everything written about Him in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms had to be fulfilled: “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.  I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”  Luke 24:47-49. 

Yes, the disciples would be His witnesses.  But they could not do it on their own.  They had to wait until the power of the Holy Spirit came upon them.  And that power would not only be an internal, unseen power to persevere.  It would be a visible power -- they would drive out demons, heal the sick and speak in different tongues; all in the name of Jesus.

In the day we live in many believe that the more spectacular manifestations of the power of the Holy Spirit no longer take place.  The result of this is a faith based primarily, if not exclusively, on intellect.  Others believe in the more spectacular manifestations of the power of the Holy Spirit, but treat them as a blessing for themselves or abuse them in some other way.

There is nothing that I have seen in the Bible to suggest that God -- or the way he reveals Himself -- is any different now than He has always been.  And, I believe that we are right now seeing  God do increasingly incredible things in our midst.  But I also believe it is no coincidence that greater manifestations of God's power coincide with greater obedience on the part of God's people.

God manifests His power not to entertain us, but for His own glory.  When we experience His power it gives us the courage to push forward.  It gives us the strength and fortitude to preach the gospel in this dark world.  It is His Spirit and his power alone that allows us to give up our own lives and instead to live for his kingdom.  It is His transforming power that allows us to no longer crave love,  attention, acceptance, significance etc. from other people, but instead to find contentment in Jesus.  And, once we have found that contentment, it is his power alone that allows us to become all things to all people, so that by all possible means some might be saved.

It is the power of the Holy Spirit that allows us even to consider giving up our freedom, and becoming a slave to everyone.  It is His power alone that allows us to give up our own dreams, aspirations, and even our basic needs in order to advance the gospel.

Jesus tells us that "[g]reater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends."  And He calls us to give up whatever we must, and become whatever we must, so that some might be saved. 

It is interesting to me that many have said that when we gather together lately they feel an overwhelming sense of love.  This should not be a great surprise to since God is love.  1 John 4:8.  And, as my wife has been pointing out, we always have the choice to be in the presence of love ... and indeed in the presence of God.  But, that choice is not determined by the people we decide to spend time with.  Ultimately, people will disappoint us if we look to them as our source of love. 

No, the only way we can be assured of being in the presence of love is if we choose to love others.  And, if we truly love others we will want them to know Jesus.  And, we will sacrifice anything in order for that to happen. 

Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord?  Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me.  Don’t we have the right to food and drink? Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?  Or is it only I and Barnabas who lack the right to not work for a living?

Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk?  Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing?  For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.”  Is it about oxen that God is concerned?  Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest.  If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you?  If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?
But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.

Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar?  In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.

But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me, for I would rather die than allow anyone to deprive me of this boast.  For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!  If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me.  What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.  To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.  To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.  To the weak I became weak, to win the weak.  I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.  I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

                                                                                                1 Corinthians 9:1-23.

Friday, November 25, 2016

His Presence

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.  Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.  Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.  Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.  If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

                                                                                                    2 Peter 4:7-11.

What happens when a small group of people who love God and who love each other get together to thank God, to worship Him, to praise Him and to pray for one another?  Well, that's exactly what we all experienced Wednesday night.

I think that most people who attend HC on Wednesday nights would agree that something has changed lately.  It has not that I have become a better teacher or have stumbled on some secret to help people better know or experience God.  It is not that we have changed the format in some way.

I think it is truly a "God thing."  Isaiah 55:10-11 says:

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the
earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth:  It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

I think that we are experiencing God's presence because the things we have been hearing and seeing in the Word of God over the past couple of years have begun to sink in with all of us.  I think we have become a group of people who increasingly are less self-interested, and increasingly are focused on God, His kingdom and other people. 

Peter says that we are to love each other deeply, and to use whatever gifts we have to serve one another.  I have come to think that this is not only a command from Jesus, but it is also a key to opening the door to God's manifest presence. 

As we saw a couple of weeks ago, the gift of the Holy Spirit is conditional on our obedience.  See John 14:15-16.  When we love God and obey His commands, then we need the Holy Spirit to teach us, to guide us, to comfort us and to encourage us.  We need the Holy Spirit to know how to pray for one another, and how to minister to one another.  And, I believe we saw the Holy Spirit doing exactly that Wednesday night. 

It was incredible to see my friend John lead worship, my friend Health lead Communion, and my friends Linda, Rhonda, Mike, Kerry and so many others praying for one another.  It was amazing to hear Cathey, Lamar and so many others tell stories of God's restoration, healing, freedom and power.  It was wonderful to see families praising God together.

For myself, I have been learning more and more that things go best on Wednesday nights when I do my best to get out of God's way.  But I am also learning that to really experience God's presence the entire body has to be engaged in what God is doing -- everyone has to be doing his or her part.  God is overjoyed when He sees His people love each other deeply.   That's God's vision for his church.