Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Striving

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
John 15:1, 4-5


I recently read a biography on the lives of Charles Spurgeon, George Muller, and Hudson Taylor. To be honest I didn't much care for the book, but nearly 100 pages into it, one little sentence grabbed me. It was exactly what I needed to hear from the Lord in that moment. It spoke into the last ten years of my life spent in ministry, all the heartache and anxiety. It spoke into all the times I have felt like a failure and decided to work harder in an attempt to grow my ministry.  Here's what it said.
"...the fruit of the vine comes from abiding, not striving."*

It may not seem that earth shattering to you. In fact, it's almost a direct quote from John 15. Yet I had never considered that passage in quite this context before. Could it really be that simple? Is being used by God more about our relationship with Him than having the right strategy? Could how near I am to God really be more important than using the best and newest methods in my ministry? More and more I am convinced that it is. That doesn't mean there isn't room for some serious consideration of ministry strategies, but lack of strategy isn't what is causing the church in America to shrink. It's a downright lack of pastors, deacons, Sunday School teachers, men, women and teens who are truly near to God. It's a lack of abiding in Him or of "remaining" in Him as several Bible versions translate it. 

Jesus makes us fruitful. The power of the Spirit's presence in our lives working in us and through us makes us fruitful. God brings the harvest. I also believe He gives us the strategies, funds and means to that harvest in His time. But first, you must have men and women of God who abide in Him. 

Abiding/Remaining is about staying connected to that life-giving source so that you can bear fruit. The branches must continually receive the sap from the vine (the trunk) of the grape plant. This idea of a constant flow of spiritual life from the Spirit to us and through us to the world reminds me of something else Jesus said:
Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39)

Our churches need more faithful workers it's true. But what we need more than anything else are believers who are filled with the power of God. Men, women, teens and children who rise early in the morning to spend time alone with God in prayer, Bible study and Scripture meditation.  We need Christians who practice the spiritual disciplines of fasting, Scripture memory, evangelism, and worship. We don't need more people, we need deeper people. I need to go deeper.

Spend more time with God this week. Quit striving. Start abiding and see what He will do with your life.


*Piper, John. A Camaraderie of Confidence: The Fruit of Unfailing Faith in the Lives of Charles Spurgeon, George Muller, and Hudson Taylor. p. 98 
 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Fan the Flames

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.
I Timothy 1:6


Anyone who has ever built a campfire will tell you they have to be tended or they die down. Fires need attention. You have to stir them up, add fresh wood, blow on the flames every now and then to keep them burning at their hottest. In this passage the Apostle Paul tells us that our spiritual gifts are the same. 

God has gifted every believer with the gifts she needs to accomplish the purpose for which God made her. God has a purpose, a destiny even, for each believer (Eph 2:10). He not only calls us to fulfill our purpose but He equips us to do it with the gifts of the Spirit. But we ought not let these gifts lay dormant. Just like a campfire our spiritual lives must be tended or they will grow cold after a while. We have to fan the flames of our passion for God. We should stir up the embers by trying new ways of using our gifts, and add fresh fuel to our fires by regularly engaging in Bible study and prayer. 

Take your spiritual temperature today. How hot is your passion for winning the lost? Are you talking to people about Jesus? How hot is your passion for prayer, for spending time with the Lord, for teaching your children about Jesus. Maybe your passion has grown cold. Paul would say "Fan the flames!" Rekindle that fire. Stoke up your passion.

Here the believer finds encouragement because anyone who has been around fires will also tell you that often when it looks like a fire is completely dead it isn't. There is still some heat down in those dying embers, there’s still life in it. Tragically, unattended campfires are the cause of so many of our forest fires. Someone thinks their fire has died down and they leave it. Then a fresh wind blows and stokes it up, a spark leaves the fire pit and finds some fresh fuel and the fire is off and running. As a cause of forest fires this is a tragedy, but as a spiritual metaphor this gives us hope. No matter how dead you feel spiritually, just a little movement on the Spirit's part can ignite your flame again. If the Spirit blew but a small breeze across your heart, it could kindle a spiritual flame that would change your city 

Never forget I John 4:4, "Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world." So don't shrink back from the attacks of this world. Don't allow yourself to be silenced. Instead stoke up the flames of your spiritual passion. Nurture and grow your love for the Lord. Look for new ways to engage in serving Him. (Mix it up! Try something new.) And pray that God's powerful Spirit would blow a fresh wind into your life today like He did on the day of Pentecost. Who knows what God might do through you!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Make No Complaint

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.
                                                                            Isaiah 53:7


He was dragged before the Sanhedrin and the High Priest to be questioned and falsely accused, yet "Jesus remained silent" (Matt. 26:63). When Pilate questioned Him to determine His fate, "He gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed" (Matt. 27:14). He had another chance still when Pilate sent Him to Herod, yet again "He made no answer" (Luke 23:9). Even as He was flogged, struck in the head with a reed, spit upon and mocked Scripture records no complaint escaping Jesus' lips. 

Isaiah prophesied that it would be this way. He said the Messiah would march to His death like a lamb is led to the slaughter, silently and submissively. Lambs don't protest because they lack sense. Jesus refused to grumble because He trusted His Father and was willing to endure anything to fulfill God's purpose for His life. Anything for God's glory (John 12:28).

Ultimately that's the problem with complaining, with grumbling against the circumstances of your life. It means that you think God has messed up. Either you don't trust that He knows what He is doing, or you don't think His purposes are worth your pain. Are you willing to endure anything to fulfill God's purpose for your life, to bring Him glory? When you grumble and complain against God, even in your own thoughts, you reveal the outer boundaries of your willingness to follow Him.

Consider how often the people of Israel grumbled, complained and rebelled against God during their journey in the wilderness. God had a purpose for every discomfort and difficulty they experienced. He was teaching His people to trust Him completely. With each trial they had the opportunity to learn to turn to Him for help and watch Him provide for their needs abundantly. Had they submitted to God and learned this lesson well it would have paid great dividends as they went in to possess the Promised Land. Unfortunately, they didn't submit to God. They grumbled and complained, so they continued to struggle for many years to come.

But Jesus is the new and perfect Israel. He gets it right precisely where they got it wrong. He doesn't grumble. He willingly submits. He accomplishes God's will for His life. In only three and a half years of ministry He changed the world forever and He opened a door into the true Promised Land, Heaven above.

God accomplishes great things in and through us by virtue of our suffering, our difficulty, and our discomfort. We are called to emulate Jesus. Let's complain less and trust more. Let's turn to God for strength and deliverance, and trust that He really will cause all things to work together for our good (Romans 8:28). Let's stop grumbling and start praising!  

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Name a Star

He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names.

His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man, but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.
Psalm 147


Have you ever heard of those services that let you name a star? You give them $20 and they enter your star name into the "official star registry." So, basically you name a star after your girlfriend thinking it will really impress her, and then she looks at you like you're an idiot when you give her the "authentic certificate." Not that I'm speaking from experience or anything...

I can just imagine God having a conversation with some poor schlub when he gets to heaven. "Hey, Lance, so you know that star isn't named 'Stacy's Hot' right? I actually named that star a long time ago because... I made it. You don't really get to go around naming things that other people created. You get that right?" 

It's surprising the things we do to try to impress someone. We guys especially make idiots of ourselves trying to impress girls, but what about the things we do to try to impress God?  I think our attempts at impressing Him are often met with the same disappointment that those "authentic certificates" from the star registry are. I can just see God looking at me with a confused look on His face saying "You thought I would like that???"

It turns out that the things God takes pleasure in are not often talked about in our churches or small group Bible studies. According to Psalm 147:11 God takes pleasure in those who fear Him and in those who hope (or wait) on His steadfast love. These are the gifts God wants from us. He wants us to understand His authority and fear the awful consequences of rebelling against Him. This type of fear is proper for those who truly understand how big and great God is. This fear of God's wrath will keep us far from sin and enable us to serve Him faithfully. God also wants us to understand that He is our only hope of escape from the difficult circumstances in our lives. We fix our hope on Him by waiting patiently on Him even in the midst of our suffering.

So don't try to impress God by what you wear to church or by pretending to be better than you are or even by getting that cool new Christian tattoo. He sees through all of that and see your heart. Give Him what He wants. Fear Him and place your hope in Him alone.