Monday, September 5, 2016

Direct Orders

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” John 20:21
This Labor Day weekend my wife and I were blessed with the chance to view the Ark Encounter in Williamstown, KY with our friends and family on what we later found out was a record-setting day for attendance. We were able to spend the day inside a very convincing ark-shaped museum full of displays which illustrated life before, during, and after Noah’s ark. There were life-like animals of all kinds in cages, a section showing how the living quarters might’ve been arranged, and many other displays on the Biblical narrative of Noah and his family. Overall, it was a fun learning experience.

However, it did not start out all sunshine and rainbows.

After arriving at the park and getting out of our cars, we found the Labor Day crowd made the line to get inside the ark so long that it wrapped around the parking lot. It was at this moment we realized we were in for quite a wait. We didn’t drive all that way just to turn around and leave; so we joined in the line. There were thousands of people there from all over North America. We saw license plates from Texas, Wisconsin, and even Canada. Even though we knew it would take hours to get inside the ark, it was great to see so many people coming together to learn about God.

To make matters worse, after just a few moments of standing in line we heard a few people walking by talk about how the line we were in was the wrong line. We were told by another park visitor that the line we were in was for people who had already bought tickets. Moments later, another person told us that we were in the right line.

Basically, we had no clue what to do, or even how to find out.

Confusion set in as we debated amongst ourselves what would be the best course of action. We asked the people in line around us, but they were just as confused. There were no park employees in sight, and our only information was contradictory hearsay from other people walking by. No one could give us a reliable answer on where we should be going, or what we should be doing. No one seemed to know what to do. Just like the people of Noah’s time, we were directionless and confused. The time of Noah predates God giving Moses the Law by many centuries. This means the people had to rely on their own understanding when it came to right and wrong. After being a part of the mass confusion that took place at the ark this Sunday, it’s all too easy to understand how the world would descend into wickedness without formal instruction and leadership.

Thankfully, we were able to figure everything out soon enough, but the long line still loomed ahead of us. We waited in line on the blacktop parking lot for almost an hour before finally getting under the shade of the ticket booths, which itself had another hour full of lines. After purchasing our tickets, we finally found a cool respite from the Labor Day sun in an air-conditioned bus ride to the ark where we found, you guessed it, another line! By the time we got inside the ark I think my family was very tired. It was hot. The lines took roughly three hours to get through. We had already put ourselves through so much, and now we have three whole floors worth of ark to see. We were tired, sweaty, and slightly cranky.

Yet, as we entered the ark, God placed a question on my heart…

“What if I chose you and your family for the ark instead?”

Our difficulties pale in comparison to what Noah and his family went through. After all the hard physical labor of making the ark, they then had to live inside it while the storm raged outside. Now, it’s easy to make analogies to all types of trials using the story of Noah’s ark. If you grew up in church, I’m sure you’ve heard a sermon or two on how God will help you weather the storms in your life, whether it’s financial trouble, addiction, depression, or grief. All this is true, but I think God wanted me to look further still. God wanted me to see that He is not only here for us when we have personal, spiritual trouble. He is here all the time. He is here for us as terror attacks kill thousands. He is here for us as hunger and starvation continues to affect millions. He is here for us as human trafficking continues to make more slaves in the present day than there have ever been before.

The answer to the question God placed on my heart is bigger than I first thought it would be as I began to think on the possibilities. At first I thought, “Well, it would be hard for my dad to live with all the snakes and without all the diet Coke.” Furthermore, in addition to the difficulties of living on the ark, there is the terrible fact that everyone else would die. I can’t imagine all my extended family, my friends, my coworkers, my patients, my neighbors, everyone gone. This thought brought me to my answer...

God did choose me.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” John 20:21

God chose all of us. We are required to be a source of the Gospel to the whole world. We are the salt of the earth. If we don't share the truth, who will? If we don't share the Gospel of Jesus, then we let the world around us drown. We have received formal instructions from Jesus himself that we are to be ministers of the faith. It is our responsibility to spread the Gospel of Truth to the entire world. God didn't ask Noah to build the ark, He commanded Noah to do so. It was a direct order. We, too, are not given the option to refuse. Jesus doesn't say, "I hope you tell people about me." He demands that we do so.
We are much luckier than Noah in many ways. We are able to view the ark in cool, air-conditioned comfort while I'm sure he perspired in the humidity. We are able to walk along the ark with ease while I'm sure he constantly fought against the rocking of the ship to keep his balance. We can enjoy the sights and exhibits under plentiful lighting while he walked around by dim candlelight most of the days below deck. However, the biggest, most meaningful difference is that while Noah had to watch people drown in the flood waters, we have an unlimited supply of life-preservers to throw to anyone who is struggling in the storm.

The story of Noah's ark might seem so unique and miraculous when compared to the everyday life of our 21st century, but remember that we have been assigned a mission from God as well. Just like Noah, just like Jonah, just like Moses, David, Lot, Abraham, Paul, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, we have all been sent by God to do His work. We may not have to build an ark to bring our family safely into the new world, but we must carry everyone to Jesus Christ, the only one who can save them from the pain of sin.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Live for God

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:25-27

Salvation through the repentance of sin and the acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is the foundational cornerstone upon which every other tenant of the Christian faith is built. It's important that we do not underestimate the gravity of Christ’s words from Luke 14.  It can be all too easy to gloss over these words because we have heard them so many times before. Make no mistake, these words are not to be taken lightly. With these words Jesus calls for complete submission to the will of God. Across all four Gospels we find Jesus preaching this same message multiple times; repent, and give your life to me. Paul would later echo these words in his letters.

 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

Sadly, salvation is often treated as a means to an end. Our selfish human nature will seek to twist all things- even grace. It is easy to fall into a trap with thoughts of self- promotion, arrogance, or jealousy. In 1 Samuel 18 you can read about how King Saul becomes jealous of the anointing on David. Many of us are guilty of the very same sin when we become jealous of a fellow Christian’s gifts from God.  We might envy their gift of prophecy, or we might envy how God uses them as a vessel for healing power. We might even envy their leadership position within the church. However, this jealousy is a tool of the enemy to distract you with someone else’s gift so that you never discover the gifts God wants to give you.
Sometimes we put the cart before the horse. Which is to say we become so caught up in trying to be who we think we ought to be that we miss out on who God wants us to be. We can become so caught up in praying for miracles that we forget to pray for souls. God has called each and every one of us to give our lives to Him by accepting the salvation of Jesus Christ. Unless we sow the seeds of salvation we will not reap the fruits of the spirit.

Unless we sow the seeds of salvation we will not reap the fruits of the spirit.
Unless we sow the seeds of salvation we will not reap the fruits of the spirit.

I can’t say that enough. We are called to repent. We are called by the conviction of the Holy Spirit to confess our sins before God, accept the sacrifice of our Savior, and likewise sacrifice ourselves to God to live as servants to His will. There is nothing without the salvation of Jesus. The perfect sacrifice of Jesus is what makes us able to be in the presence of God. It’s what makes us able to be living temples of the Holy Spirit, and therefore bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Everything starts with the rejection of self, and the acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior. In Luke 14 Jesus does not try to make His Gospel easy to swallow.  He makes it very clear that you’re not welcome unless you’re willing to give up everything. God doesn’t offer a “try me for 30 days, money back if you’re not satisfied.” God doesn’t accept you coming with any demands or any preconceived notions about the type of spiritual fruit you’re willing to bear, or the type of ministry you're willing to perform. God says, “Come prepared to lose your life or don’t come.”

The Book of Job tells us about a successful man of God who was tried by Satan. In just a day Job lost all his children, all his servants, and all his livestock. As if this wasn't enough, Job was then cursed with a terrible illness. Rather than turn against God, who allowed all these terrible things to happen, Job humbled himself before God, and continuously reminded the people who watched him suffer that his life, his health, his birth, his death, wealth, family, mind, body, and spirit belongs to God. Job's response to all these trials is the most perfect example of Christian living in the Old Testament. Long before Christ’s words in Luke 14, Job lived the perfect example of what God has called all of us to do: to lay our lives down before Him, and submit to His will. After hearing the terrible news of the death of all his children, servants, and animals Job says,

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job 1:21

How many of us can say we have a faith like Job? How many of us serve God unconditionally? How many of us go to God with our only request being that he forgives our sins and guides us in His will for us? God is not looking for a compromise. God is not looking for followers who are only interested in signs, miracles, and opportunities for advancement. God wants us to give Him our entire lives. God wants us to praise Him when we are at our lowest point and our highest point because God is present in the lows and the highs!

If you live for God, then I have all the confidence in the world that the gifts will come when God wants you to have them. Do not worry about speaking in tongues, or healing the sick, or prophesying. These things will be given to you according to God’s plan for you. Understand that God is working all the time. He is working just as much when you become sick as He works when you are healed. God is working just as much when you’re taking the trash out as he does when you’re prophesying. All you have to do is live for God which means doing everything to the glory of God. If you do all things for God then God will work through all the things you do.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters. Colossians 3:23