Why I Chose Faithfulness

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The Church faces a lot of challenges with the changes technology is making to our society. New generations have been taught values that run contrary to scripture.  Many believe this presents a problem they have to fix in their own might and wisdom.

I end up cringing at most of these solutions. Some of these efforts, while well-intentioned, come off as fake and cheesy because a church or ministry is doing something that’s so unnatural, that’s so obviously doesn’t fit who they are, that it feels fake and schmaltzy. Then, we have people who ignore the parts of the scripture that are unpopular in today’s culture and thus compromise the truth. And often, in both cases, the people offering the solutions will be telling Christians what they ought to do but haven’t actually succeeded in reaching these groups themselves.

This week, I read in Acts 9 the story of Saul of Tarsus’ encounter with Christ that led to Saul becoming Paul the Apostle. This raised questions for me. What if the people who hold the solution to the church’s most vexing challenges aren’t in the Church right now? Maybe, the people who God will ultimately use to address the needs that vex so many in church leadership are far from God right at this very moment.

Certainly, Saul, the persecutor of the Church, was far from God.  No one in the Early Church would view Saul as a solution to anything, but rather as just another big problem. There were a probably quite a few who’d lost relatives to his fanatical persecution who would have shed no tears if Saul had died.

Yet God had chosen Saul for a mission many would not have expected: “the Pharisee of Pharisees” who would have eschewed contact with gentiles became the Apostle to the gentiles.  It seems like a horrible idea. Yet God knew what he was doing.

As a man who learned at the feet of Gamaliel, Paul had honed a fine intellect which would be key to reaching much of the Gentile world. His background as a Pharisee gave him a great understanding of scripture and tradition. At the same time, his impeccable Jewish credentials made him the perfect opponent of the Judaizers who threatened to subvert the early Christian Church.

Throughout history, God has done this. He has taken persecutors and skeptics and raised them up to be the leaders and thinkers of the Church. It’s true not only of Paul, but of more modern figures like C.S. Lewis, an atheist who became the greatest modern apologist for the Christian Church, or Chuck Colson, a ruthless take-no-prisoner political operative who has changed the lives of tens of thousands of people around the world through founding Prison Fellowship.

Time and time again, even with churches full of people, God has reached out, drawn people out of the world and to himself and raised them up for the great purposes he’s intended and often are truer to God and his word than many who were raised within the Church’s walls and also more effective at reaching those outside the church. God has provided in this way time and time again throughout history.

The most important thing for Christians to do is to be faithful to what God has called them to do. Any new steps or new approaches will only succeed if they are ordered by the Lord. Let’s remain faithful to who God has called us to be, and let’s rest safe in the knowledge that God hasn’t called us to solve every problem. God has called us to be faithful to do what he’s called us to do.

Mind you, we are all called to show love and kindness. The story of Paul encourages me to look at those who are far from God differently. It’s often said we should not judge people because we don’t know where they’ve been (i.e. what they have suffered that led to this behavior) but Paul’s story shows that we don’t know where people are going. The terrorist, the political extremist, the bigot, the sexually immoral person, and the con man may be one encounter with God away from being transformed as Paul was. They may be the person who helps bring your lost relatives to Christ or who ends up writing words that will save you from losing heart years down the road.

The solution to the problems the church faces is not to be clever and inventive but humble, loving, and obedient. Let’s pray God will raise up those people who will have the wisdom and the ability to address the problems we face at this time as he has done throughout the history of the Church.

[bctt tweet=”Why I Choose Faithfulness: Saul the Persecutor became Paul the Apostle by God’s power, not by cheesy gimmicks or compromising on the truth. By @Idahoguy” username=”@andreajgraham”]

Standing Where Feet May Fail

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Some fear Ebola. Some fear nuclear attacks on or our own governments attacking their own people. Some fear disasters like volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. Some are so afraid, they ignore that in Mathew 24 Jesus said such phenomena are not signs of the end, implying they’re instead the status quo on the way to the end. It seems to be getting worse since we get reports from further away, faster than ever. If these are “birth pangs,” the earth has been already having contractions for millennia, and we haven’t been measuring long enough, widely enough, to really have any idea how far apart the contractions are and how close we actually are to the birth.

In other words, I don’t blink an eye at such worries, though I pray for the victims when prompted to. Likewise, the actual smell of smoke in my nostrils can give my flesh an urge to check which way the animals are running and follow them. Even then, it is well with my soul. My heart remains secure, knowing God is in control and will protect me or bring me through any disaster that does come. The Lord is the God who has brought me up out of spiritual Egypt and is delivering me to the spiritual Promised Land. I trust the Lord to get me there, whatever major disasters threaten along the way.

Why then do comparatively small matters put fear in my heart?

For instance, the Lord has given me dreams, things I feel called to, and the journey to achieving those goals has often felt like wilderness experiences. I’ve heard the call to go and gone, but God’s led me out in ways that don’t always make natural sense. In some cases, my own self-doubts and insecurities have been responsible for it seeming like a huge Red Sea was blocking my path. However, I knew God had directed me, even if it seemed impossible for me to achieve that, so I took what I had in hand and kept testing the waters by faith to see if the God who brought me this way would part the Red Sea.

Then comes the day the Red Sea parts.

Now, the first time this happens, we may be naively excited and rush right in. Only it isn’t easy to cross over an ocean bed, and even once we’re past the Red Sea, there is often wanderings in the wilderness to prepare us for the work we’ll have when we finally arrive. The hardships of the desert can make us question if it was really God who had parted our personal Red Sea. Perhaps we have misinterpreted natural phenomena as signs from God and taken wrong turns, made costly unwise decisions.

Perhaps God has brought us back around full circle, and we find ourselves yet again with a Red Sea in between us and where God’s leading us. Once more, we don’t know where God will part it, so we gather our courage and test the waters. It’s harder this time. Many times, we continue to be blocked, perhaps until we lose all notion of the possibility of getting past this one without divine intervention. We’re in tears now. Egyptians aren’t just at our backs. We’re fighting for the life of our dream.

We refuse to give in to despair and keep plugging on by sheer faith, and one day, the Red Sea parts.

If you’re like me, this time, you stare, stunned and dumbfounded. When it finally sinks in, joy and gratitude still aren’t what you’re feeling, and part of you is upset with yourself about this. The way is open, but dangers still lay ahead. God is faithful, and you trust him, but you don’t know and trust the agency. These waters have free will. These waters might change their minds and crash right on your head. What if you stumble? What if you fall? Any joy you feel in your soul is drowned out by your flesh’s fears screaming at you to declare what your eyes see “too good to be true” and turn and run.

Where’s our faith and our courage gone? Let’s deal gently with our hearts, and remember where we’d been before, how far God’s already brought us. When fear reminds us of all the difficulties, hardships, failures, and mistakes we’ve already seen on this journey, remember also that God’s kept us through them to reach this moment. Let’s decide the dreams God’s given us are worth the risk. Let’s trust God to keep us from drowning if the waters do prove fickle, to help us up and keep us going when we stumble, or give us a time of rest and refreshment in his presence to strengthen us for the journey.

“Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; ‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.” John Newton, “Amazing Grace.”

Fill my cup, Lord

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By Adam Graham

“And herein is that saying true, `One soweth and another reapeth.’ I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labor; other men labored, and ye have entered into their labors.” John 6:37-38

The context of the scripture is that the disciples were baptizing even more than John. The disciple’s success was the result of the ministry of faithful people who we don’t know. Probably these people didn’t even know they were sowing, maybe they even felt like they weren’t accomplishing anything or were failures. I really relate to them.

However, they ultimately prepared things for the Lord and his apostles. This gives me the feeling that we may be sowing and earlier Jesus promises:

“And he that reapeth receiveth wages and gathereth fruit unto life eternal, that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together.-John 4:36.”

Lord, we thank you for your word. Lord, we are weary today and have been so restless. We feel more like those who sows, perhaps without realizing it, and someone else reaps. Strengthen us and encourage our hearts today. We thank you for your peace. We thank you for being with us. Please give us direction and purpose today. Show us your vision. Prepare us to receive from you whatever we need to fulfill your plan for our lives. Protect us from the enemy’s interference today. Empower us to resist the devil and overcome his wiles. Please bring forth a good harvest of bountiful spiritual fruits in our lives today. In Jesus’ name we pray, Lord, amen.

“Suffering, a Privilege?” Or: “It’s War!”

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29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. (Phil 1:29-30)

The Apostle Paul tells the Philippians here that grace has not given them the privilege of believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, but also to experience pain, punishment, and distress–for his sake. The privilege is to be engaged in the cosmic war, doing our divinely assigned part to advance the gospel. The more suffering we endure in our calling, as a direct result of obeying clear  instructions from the Lord, the greater of a position in the war effort we have.

Now, the riveter building warplanes has as vital a role as the soldier on the front lines, and the riveter may suffer sore muscles for his or her task to stop the forces of evil, but the soldier on the front lines has the greater glory for he (or she nowadays) bears the greatest risk.  The higher the price we pay in a godly war effort, in theory, the greater the glory.

Christianity today has become wishy-washy in some circles, all about the promises of comfort and peace and joy and forgiveness, prosperity and healing. Turning the other cheek, agreeing quickly with your adversary, avoiding conflict and being a peace-maker who is slow to judgment and quick to listen and respectful and loving to all.

That’s taking a cookie cutter to the Bible.  Our war is not against flesh and blood, but we are in a war, brothers and sisters.

Now, we should follow the rules of engagement, and the human lives around us are the territories being fought over, not the enemy, and we must stay alert. To the enemy, we are either combatants to neutralize or eliminate from the arena of war, or we are ourselves territory to seek to retake and oppress.

In this world, no suffering means we’ve either been neutralized by the enemy via deception like the cookie cutter approach to scripture, we’ve been taken captive by the enemy to do his will and haven’t manifested the bitter fruits of oppression yet,  or we’ve been given leave between battles so we can refresh and refill in preparation for a battle as great as the amount of rest we’ve been given.

Suffering means we are either hot or cold, actively doing what the Lord has called us to and facing the opposition, or a POW taken captive. It is vital we discern the source of our present suffering or its absence.

Lord, give me wisdom to discern the season I am in and ears that hear your call. Grant me a courageous heart willing to fight the good fight according to your principles, when and where you call me. Grant me eyes that see clearly who our enemy is and that perceive as you do the lives around me that are being fought over, used against what you have sent me to do, and who are fighting beside me or in other arenas of the cosmic war. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

Why Did God Make His Promises?

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“by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” (2 Peter 1:4)

Which here refers back to God’s “own glory and excellence,” which Peter referenced in verse three.  Peter emphasizes that God gives us his great promises, which ought to be more precious to us than anything, by, or because of his glory and his greatness or supremacy.  Divine nature likely references back to the divine power that we’re told granted us all things in the previous verse and in context refers to God’s holiness.  Peter goes on to say we obtain to this by having escaped the corruption in the world, suggesting that we were originally made to have holy desires and be holy as the Lord is Holy, but what Adam and Eve did in the garden of Eden corrupted our design. To use the language of computers, we’re born with both our  software and our hardware corrupted and our code is full of errors. God’s greatest promise to us is to debug us both spiritually and physically and return us to the pristine  operating conditions that he originally intended us to have.

God’s promises, Peter tells us, all have this end goal in mind. Nothing God promises in the Word is intended as a blank check to continue to delight in our malfunctioning and relish in our buggy ways. His promises are all intended to advance his ultimate goal of restoring us to proper working order, not through our efforts to fix ourselves, but though his power at work in us.

Lord, one question haunts my mind: do I want to be whole? Do I want to escape from the corruption of my sinful desires? Do I want to be changed? Lord, I want to want to be free of the slavery of sin. Grant me by your grace the desire to open up to you and risk trusting you to transform me into the person you made me to be. Fill me with courage to count as loss anything that gets in the way of your will for my life, to bear the holy spiritual fruits and to be free from corruption. We have not already obtained, but let us forget what is behind and press on to reach the mark of this high calling in Christ and obtain the ends of the promises you have made. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.