Friday, October 9, 2015

What Rock Has God Given You to Push?

In Greek mythology, the legend of Sisyphus relates the tale of a poor mortal who angered the gods so much that they punished him by sentencing him to spend eternity at an impossible task - pushing a rock up a mountain, only to have it roll back down time after time.

This is my twist on the legend of Sisyphus...

Once upon a time, a man prayed fervently for God to reveal His will for the man’s life. God led him to the base of a tall mountain where a boulder had fallen from the face of the slope.

“Push the rock,” God told the man.

"Tiziano - Sísifo" by Titian - Photo taken by Dodo. Retouched with clens and the Gimp.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons 

“But, Lord, that boulder is larger than I am! I couldn’t possibly push that rock up this mountain!” The man responded.

“Push the rock,” God repeated.

The man argued with God and reasoned with God. He ignored God’s instruction and turned his back for a time. He folded his arms across his chest and finally threw them up in despair.

Finally, he sighed, bowed his head, placed his hands upon the rock and began to push.

The rock did not move.

All day the man pushed on the rock. He tried throwing his weight against it. He tried pressing with his legs. He tried turning around and pushing with his back. At the end of the day, the rock had not moved. Not one inch.

The next day, the man arose and heard the voice of God again. “Push the rock.”

The man returned to the rock. Again he pressed and pushed all day long. No matter how hard he tried, the rock did not move. Not one inch.

Day after day, God called the man and he returned to the rock and pushed. Day after day, the rock did not move. Not one inch.

Some days the man pleaded with God to give him some other task. Some days the man sang as he pushed. Some days the man wept and cried out to God to help move the rock. Some days the man stood back and prayed, “Lord, I know in your mighty power, you alone are able to move this rock! I believe and have faith that you will move this rock when I say, move. Now, rock, by the power of God, MOVE!” Still the rock did not move. Not one inch.

At the end of the man’s life, he wept with frustration and sorrow. He was a failure. He had spent his entire life pushing that rock and he had failed. In all those years, the rock had not moved. Not one inch.

When the man passed away, he was greeted by God. He wept and cried out in regret, “Oh, Lord, I’m so sorry! I wasn’t able to push that rock no matter how hard I tried.” He hung his head, ashamed of his failure at the one task God had given him.

But God took his hand and led him to the shore of the crystal sea and said, “Look into the water and tell me what you see.”

The man looked at his reflection and barely recognized himself. Before him was the image of a mountain of a man, strong and rugged. Muscles built through years of pressing on the rock covered his broad chest. His arms bulged beneath his sleeves and his legs were as hard as the boulder itself had been.

“You have achieved everything I asked of you. Your task was never about moving the rock – it was about moving you from complacency to action, from self-assurance to dependence on Me, and from weak, ineffective faith to a faith that moves mountains.”

Sometimes God calls us to work that is not intended to change others, but to change us.

What has God called you to that you have yet to see any fruit from? 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Transforming Faith

Isaiah 1:13-17:
Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
    Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
    I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
    I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
    I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
    I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
    I am not listening.
Your hands are full of blood!
16 Wash and make yourselves clean.
    Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
    stop doing wrong.
17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
    Defend the oppressed.[a]
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
    plead the case of the widow.

Such strong words!
“I am weary of bearing [your worthless assemblies].”
“I hide my eyes from you [when you spread your hands in prayer].”
“I hate with all my being [your feasts and festivals].”

Religious observance without heart change is detestable to God. This is not to say that we must "do" something to have fellowship with God; Christ has already done everything necessary for life and godliness on our behalf.

But when we recognize the magnitude of that sacrifice, it changes our heart as surely as a seed exposed to light and water will be transformed into a plant that provides food for many.

John 8:12 tell us, “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’”

And just before this in John 7:38, he said, “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”

When our lives are exposed to the Light and Living Water that Jesus offers, they are transformed into something through which God blesses others – not because of our great efforts. This is the power of God and it is a law we see at work in those who have embraced the Light and the Living Water as surely as the natural laws transform a seed into a crop!

It is not something that we can do. No amount of effort, desire, or work on our part can multiply in this way.

And yet, when we bring what we have to the Lord with earnest prayers for Him to use our meager offerings, like the young boy’s lunch or the widow’s mite…

He listens with delight to our prayers.

He gazes on our hearts with joy.

He accepts our worship with satisfaction.

And he transforms our worthless crumbs into a feast!

Friday, September 11, 2015

A Very Special Kind of Crazy

A recent conversation led me to share the story of Nate Saint, Jim Elliott and the three other missionaries who gave their lives in the 1950’s trying to help natives in Ecuador with someone who had never before heard their story. One of the widows and the sister of one of the missionaries later went to live with the tribe, taking their children with them, and through their efforts many in the tribe turned from a destructive, violent path almost certain to end in their extinction, to Christianity.

“That’s a very special kind of crazy,” was the response.

She is absolutely right. In our morally upside-down world, it takes a special brand of insanity to offer up your life for someone else without any possible tangible reward.

We value the return on investment above all.

Even in our most altruistic moments, we bear in mind what our actions may net for us:
“Will this extra work earn me a raise or a promotion, or at the very least a pat on the back?”
“Will this little kindness to my spouse promote peace or merit a favor in return?”
“Will I get an allowance for doing this chore?”

What kind of person gives something of incredible value, knowing the one to whom they are giving cannot possibly pay them back…ever?

What would make those mothers – newly widowed – risk the lives of their own children for the sake of the very people who left their children fatherless?

A very special kind of crazy.

The kind of crazy that in smaller doses takes in a child in need of a home. Or provides for a massive financial need. Or donates a kidney. 

The kind of crazy that in more extravagant doses throws oneself on a grenade or in front of a bullet. Or runs into a building that is burning or collapsed because maybe there is someone they could save.

The kind of crazy that in the most perfect example of all takes the sin of the whole world on Himself and pays a penalty that He would never deserve so that you and I would never have to pay for it ourselves. It’s a debt that we could never repay and Christ knew that and chose to pay it for us anyway.

Yep, that is a very special kind of crazy.

PS – I loaned her the video “The End of the Spear” which depicts the story and the culture behind the deaths of the missionaries as well as the harvest God has brought through their wives’ ministry. Please join me in praying for greater understanding and a little bit of crazy.

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Matthew 16:18

(Rodin's conception of the gates of Hell as inspired by Dante's Inferno.)

These powerful words from Jesus often bring to mind an image of a disciple, or a church, under spiritual attack - demonic forces trying unsuccessfully to destroy us through unconfessed sin, political plots, apathetic parishioners, or "wolves in sheeps' clothing." But our pastor, J. D. Greear, quoted this scripture recently (link to his blog on the topic)  and mentioned that the gates of Hell are not an offensive weapon. Think about it: Can you imagine an army lifting up the gates of the city and pursuing their enemy only to drop the gate on them? Not a very effective battle strategy! 

I could not get the image out of my mind over the next few days. The gates of Hell, like any gates, are intended to either keep someone out or to keep someone in. Or both.

Regardless of whether you picture literal gates or read these verses metaphorically, the notion is that those who are in Hell are bound there by the gates. But saying that they won't prevail against the church in this purpose is senseless, as the church isn't IN Hell. 

But if the purpose for which the gates will not prevail is to keep the church out, why would the church want IN? Why would we even try to get through those gates?

An image came to mind of all the lost souls I know. Though still living, their destiny without Christ is Hell. Many live in situations that are just a glimpse of what is to come, in constant torment from one source or another. 

Jesus has done all that is needed for their salvation - the keys to the gates that have them confined rest in His outstretched and nail-scarred hand - but someone must brave the gates of Hell to proclaim their freedom. To waken them from their slumber and show them where they are. To show them the joy of the Lord and entice them to follow us out of their prison and to take the keys to freedom that Christ offers.

Our marching orders are to storm those brazen gates and "rescue the perishing" as the old hymn proclaims. We've already been promised that we will be victorious. 

What weapons will you use today to overcome the gates of Hell? 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Losing Focus

I’m legally blind.

Well, at least, without corrective lenses, I would be legally blind.

This fact was made painfully clear to me last fall when I struggled with an eye infection that forced me out of my contact lenses (for the first time in 25 years) and into outdated glasses. Aside from the entertainment value for my kids who found the jumbo-sized 80’s prescription sunglasses hilarious, the experience gave me a renewed appreciation for the simple things – being able to read a menu, see a computer screen, watch TV, or read the Bible without holding it six inches from my nose.

But God also used it to show me the importance of keeping my focus on Him.

In the midst of these visual challenges, I was coordinating the design and construction of props for our Marching Band. For the first time, the Marching Band at our Christian high school designed a show with an overt Christian message. Based on an original poem by an alumnus, with music written by another alumnus, the show pointed to God as the artist designing our life – and revealed that we may not always see the picture clearly based on our limited view. The prop was a massive easel with a sixteen-feet-tall painting that was revealed one small piece at a time. Like isolated moments in our life, we miss the "bigger picture" that God is creating. The pieces seem unrelated – until the entire picture is unveiled and we see God's purpose revealed.

Although in many ways this prop was less complex than ones we’ve done previously, we encountered a series of obstacles that threatened to completely overwhelm me. I started to lose hope that we would actually be able to accomplish the design. While many of our shows could go on without the props, this show would really lose its punch if we failed.

Then God revealed the real obstacle. I had lost my focus.

This show was not about the music. It was not about the prop design or even about the poem. The point of this show was to glorify God. He inspired the poem. He inspired the music. And He inspired the prop design – all to point the audience to Him.

Confessing my own lack of prayer and asking others to join me in seeing our struggles as a spiritual battle, the priorities suddenly became crystal clear and the solution materialized as if I had suddenly put on a new pair of glasses.

How about you? Have you ever lost focus on the main thing and wandered around in frustration? Have you ever had God make something so clear to you that you just had to share the vision with others? Share your stories in the comments section and click below to see the NRCA Marching Knights' final performance of 2014!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Holes in Our Heart

Blaise Pascal, famed mathematician, stated “What else does this craving and this helplessness proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”

We’ve often heard this expression paraphrased as a “God-sized hole” – and perhaps pictured a single hole.  A gaping wound left open which only God can fill through salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

When I saw this rock, God whispered in my heart that perhaps this God-sized need is not a single hole, but myriad tiny craters. Pits where other children hurt our feelings when we were young. Holes of neglect from our parents. Chasms of loneliness and need. Canyons of betrayal.

God fills each one. Not all in a moment at the second of salvation, but slowly and steadily over the course of our life. Each hurt we have experienced, He uncovers and reveals and beckons us to turn it over to him. To lay it before Him as an offering, entrusting Him to make it right, even if we will never know that He has. And as we leave it on the altar and walk away from it, He fills in that hollow with His love and His mercy and His forgiveness and makes us WHOLE.