Saturday, August 25, 2012

His Joy

As the miles slip past my window, as the scenery morphs from green to desert and back again, and as the sun slips high in the sky, then sets behind the mountains in a wild rim of colors only to frame the moon hours later, the reality that some changes are irreversible, that what was may never be again, that what is may not be what will be, follows me. During this ten day cross-country trip spent with my family, memories of the past travel with me...And at first I try to cling to what was, to the life that feels like just yesterday was still mine--still ours.
But I see siblings seated close and I see me and I see how seasons change; just like the view out my window. And just because what was may never be ours again, just because what is and what lies just ahead seems darker than the view out my rear-view window, I must ever remember that there is One who never changes, One who never seals off a season of our lives a second too soon, One who never takes away without giving better in exchange. A God who keeps His promises. every.single.time.

"He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?"-Romans 8:32

Freely. He gives it all. Gladly. Joyfully. Over and over.

This God who gave up His only Son, who counted life not worth living without us; traitors of His heart, He moves heaven and earth to reveal His good intention towards us. Time, and time again.

We shun Him, and He shields us still.
We reject Him, and He redeems us still.

His rejoicing, His happiness, is found in our "uplifting and redemption."
He knows that in Him, our future will always be brighter than our past. He wants His future to be our future, His joy, to be our joy.

"God is the source of life and light and joy to the universe. Like rays of light from the sun, like the streams of water bursting from a living spring, blessings flow out from Him to all His creatures. And wherever the life of God is in the hearts of men, it will flow out to others in love and blessing.

Our Saviour’s joy was in the uplifting and redemption of fallen men. For this He counted not His life dear unto Himself, but endured the cross, despising the shame. So angels are ever engaged in working for the happiness of others.

This is their joy. That which selfish hearts would regard as humiliating service, ministering to those who are wretched and in every way inferior in character and rank, is the work of sinless angels. The spirit of Christ’s self-sacrificing love is the spirit that pervades heaven and is the very essence of its bliss. This is the spirit that Christ’s followers will possess, the work that they will do."
Steps To Christ, pg. 77

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Like Bob

"...And the cause which I knew not, I searched out."

Could it be, that those dearest, closest, to the heart of God, are furthest from ours?

My sister and I,  we share prayer requests late in the night, me in the little back closet so as to not wake the others, her in her dorm room hundreds of miles away. Some old requests, some new. And the newest one, it pierces deep pain into me.

She tells of the community in the middle east who have waited 6 years (6 years!!!) for their school to be built. At some point a group had committed to fund the project, but at the last minute changed their minds and left the locals waiting. And waiting. I promise to pray, ask her to keep me updated, but the pain deepens when she calls back, says that those she contacted, hoping they would offer to help, offered only words.

Who wants words when what's needed is works?

It's words lived out that count, not words spelled out. Words empty of action hold no weight--except the weight of the pain of countless forgotten and unnamed faces, the inconsequential ones, the causes that with them bring no recognition or acknowledgement.

"...And the cause which I knew not, I searched out."

I think of those closed-countries spanning continents, and how I hardly ever hear them spoken of in our big conferences and churches and meetings and prayer groups, and much less so in our daily lives. Those thousands of souls...Those who heaven waits to hear mentioned and prayed over and fought for, unceasingly, unwearingly.

O God, who hears their cries? Where are the Job's who seek out the causes that others pass by as too lowly?

How many of the causes, the ministries, the individuals we choose to claim as our own and support with prayers and friendships and money are influenced by what we might gain in return, instead of what we might give, period?

The truth we claim as ours is beautiful, but were we blessed with the truth just to enjoy it amongst ourselves? Have we forgotten of Luke 16, of the beggar named Lazurus outside our gate?
Could it be that what's popular within our christian circles isn't popular to the only One who matters? It was so in Jesus' day, why would we think it to be different now?

"Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God."

We are constantly warned of the dangers of the world, the outside influences, but I wonder if we realize the more subtle and much more deadly dangers of the influences within our church? The dangers of getting comfortable and cacooning ourselves in truth, protecting us from the "evils" outside? Of holding on to truth instead of chasing after the darkness, setting souls free?

Are we so busy creating a piece of heaven here on earth that we've forgotten that it's in losing our lives that we find heaven in our hearts?

Could it be that the "broad way" is found not only in  the way of the world, but anywhere that a life of ease and comfort is sought? Have we forgotten that Jesus had nowhere to lay His head? That He lived and breathed to serve the forgotten and neglected? Why should our lives look any different?
Did He bear a cross so that we wouldn't have to, or is He really our example in all things?

If we as His professed followers truly cared as we ought, would malaria still exist? Have we forgotten that it was here once too? Just because it doesn't cross our shores anymore, does that mean it doesn't matter anymore? How many more needless deaths will occur before we stop caring about our clothes and gadgets and our words of "truth", and instead live out the gospel?...

On any given Sabbath, I can easily be at 5 different Adventist churces in the span of 15 minutes, and that number is just a quick mental count--there are more than that. And atleast 4 of those 5 churches hold multiple worship services in the span of a few hours, just to accomadate the sheer number of members. But 15 minutes further out, I find myself downtown, where a little rented baptist church building holds some of the most devote and evangelistic hearts I have ever met. A few years back a church plant, it grew thanks to these same faithful souls, along with some certain young people from my university. At one point, it became the "it" church to go to for people I've identified with my whole life (and still do); the "conservative" Adventist young people. And the faithful members welcomed one and all, and the church grew and there were some wonderfully dedicated young people who made a huge impact for good in that church. But as with all trends, when those certain key leaders of that group of young people graduated and went back to their home states, the tide shifted... elsewhere. And my heart broke. Broke for that little church that gave and gave, and were left with less than what they started with.

And I can count on one hand the number of young people who stayed. And what I find so interesting? After all the excitement and hype died away, and only the ones who truly were there because they saw the great need downtown remained, that is when people from off the street, from the heart of the city, found a welcoming home and made it their own. That little church across the river, the one with at best 25 regulary attending, has more recent converts actively involved and growing in their relationship with Jesus than any of the other area churches in proportion to their size, if not in every way. That church is doing a beautiful work...But it could be doing so much more, if only a few hearts from those churches with the multiple services, would step out of the comfortable and make a struggling church their mission field. Why is that such a hard thing? Why must the elderly be the ones to carry the burden of that little church? 95% are over the age of 65. There's maybe 4 other young people besides me in my age range--half of them new converts.

Where are the young families that are willing to fill the empty classrooms with happy children? Why must the handful of children from outside the church who we bring be robbed of the fellowship they could enjoy if only hearts rich with knowledge mere minutes away, mingling among themselves, focused on out-reach instead of in-reach? Might not more of our youth be staying in our churches as adults if they were taught to reach-out instead of getting comfortable?

Why is it that with all our talk of missionary work and evangelistic work and medical work, the areas that most need our help stand bent and weary and abandoned?

I fear many hearts are waiting in vain for God to move mightly in a corporate way. Sadly, as much as I love the big meetings and seminars and conventions, and as much as I'll keep supporting and attending and advocating for them, I firmly believe that it's not in the big, corporate events where the  transformation that needs to happen is going to happen (is already happening). By the time it's evident to our church as a whole that God is pouring out His Spirit, it will only be an outflow of what has already been going on in the corners of the globe where no flashy promo or trendy mantra announced it's beginning.  Truth in it's purity, the heart-work that must be accomplished before He can return, will it ever be trendy? At the end of the day, could it be that what God needs most is the quiet heart-work that only happens apart from the bright lights and cameras and masses of people? Could it be possible to get so caught up in the big, that we forget the small? Could it be that we have it all reversed?

Have we forgotten Jesus and the 11 disciples? Yes, the Bible is full of beautiful testaments to the huge numbers of hearts that can turn to Him in a day, but before that, how big was the group at Pentecost? And before Pentecost, how many smaller groups had there been? And how popular were the handful of Jesus-followers to the mainstream spiritual community? And when the 70, and the thousands came to the truth, did they all stick together and enjoy their Jesus, or did they scatter to the four winds with the irresistible love that compelled them to GO? 

In the midst of all my ranting and raving to God from the frustrations that have boiled over into hours and days; I hear a still small voice.
The whisper of a God who knows out of all the people I feel might be hindering His cause, I am actually the most guilty. Late one night as my frustration drains into heavy sadness, He reminds me of the huge beam in my own eye, and my need of not focusing on the perceived speck in my neighbors'. He cares for the unknowns and forgotten more than I will ever comprehend, and He saw me eager to point out where others were supposedly falling short, and quietly asks why, if I cared so much, I did nothing for 5 years for that little church across the river, why I didn't spend more nights in prayer pleading for the unnamed countries and faces and ministries, and why I had gotten upset when very few people greeted a couple that had never visited the church before, when I myself didn't welcome them, and on and on... 

For years, I refused to regularly attend that little church with my sisters, blaming the pretense and cliques and popularity games as my reason for not getting involved. I saw the need, but let people get in the way of Jesus. There will always be insincere individuals, but who put me as judge? Can I read hearts? Who am I to say anything at all about anyone?

Yes I am young and yes I am inadequate and yes like Jeremiah felt I feel as though I have nothing of value to offer, no words or wisdom or whit, and pretense and agendas make me squirm, but if I'm truly seeking souls, if self is not being sought but Christ, how hard is it to squeeze a hand, tap a shoulder, whisper out happiness at seeing someone, regardless of the intentions of others? How hard?

 In these past few months of regularly attending that little church, the one that is struggling to pay the rent and where there are rumors of darker days ahead, I am finding a hunger to do. To be the difference, not point fingers, not just see the need. But do, however meager my doing may be.

I smile just thinking of it, of how that couple that my shyness kept me from greeting, came back. I thought I had missed my chance with them forever, but I had promised God that by His grace I wouldn't let another opportunity slip through, and I begged Him to give me another chance with them. After a few Sabbaths, through the doors they came, and my heart raced. Hah-- again I looked around hoping others would greet them. I even nudged my mom and asked her to please make sure to say hi...but suddenly what I once thought was so incredibly hard to do, in my eagerness to have them know they were noticed and appreciated, I found myself slipping into their pew, and o how a simple hello and smile can make a world of difference in a persons day! And how easy it was to do! I don't know if they'll ever come back, but what I do know is that there's no room in God's kingdom for timidity, only boldness. Boldness hinged on love.

And even now my eyes fill with tears, as I think of Bob, who during the praise and prayer request time of our service, after some had mentioned financial concerns and family concerns and health concerns, raises his hand from the audio-booth in the very back, and says "I'm asking God for one more soul to witness to this week. One more soul. Please help me pray for that."

Bob, one of the newest members, who not long ago was baptized...who already knows more Bible-truths than I do--lives more Bible-truth than I do--, he wants souls. That was his only request.
And another member mentions that they thought he was already giving lots of Bible studies? And his quiet response makes me cry. "Yes, but I want more."
And long after potluck has started I notice he still hasn't come downstairs, and wonder when he will, and when everyone's almost done I see him slip into a chair and I slyly eavesdrop.
They ask him where he's been and what's taken so long and they thought something had happened to him, and again in his quiet, unassuming way he states that he was talking with one of the members Jesus-talk, and how one doesn't think about eating when they're in the middle of making plans for Jesus. And that's just a paraphrase of his humble words, but what moves me so deeply is not his words or his talents. He holds no claim to charm or elegance or special skills. It's the spirit of God, the transforming grace so unmistakably etched into his being that makes me want to weep.
He loves God. He lives and breathes God. And when he speaks, his words but belie what is already evident in his life.
"...And the cause which I knew not, I searched out."

It's people like Bob that make me love Jesus more. It's people like Bob, that care nothing for pretence or praise or popularity, but care instead for the cross and Christ and carrying the love of Jesus anywhere and everywhere he goes. It's people like him that make me want to be the change I've waited to see happen in our church. Bob isn't waiting. Bob isn't pointing fingers. Bob is living out the gospel. I want to be like him.

[I write all these incoherent questions and heart-aches and sentences and thoughts all running together because I must... I write this for me. I see my lack and it is great and I see my Savior and He is greater than all my lack. His mercy reaches even me.]

"Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:  And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting"
Ps. 139:23,24

"God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty . . . that no flesh should glory in his presence."
1 Cor. 1:27-29.

"The people who influence us the most are not those who detain us with their continual talk, but those who live their lives like the stars in the sky and “the lilies of the field”— simply and unaffectedly. Those are the lives that mold and shape us."
-Oswald Chambers