Friday, January 28, 2011

Take a Number

Take a number, image courtesy of Take A Number, Inc.

I’ve faced many instances in my life where I’ve failed and I’ve come to recognize one of four situations:
  1. Sometimes my desire lacked commitment.
  2. Sometimes my effort lacked discipline.
  3. Sometimes my skill set was inadequate.
  4. Sometimes God just said, “Take a number
As you can imagine, I’ve also experienced my own share of disappointment and frustration when it comes to failure. God’s word speaks truth to me when I examine my thoughts and experiences regarding failure. When Jesus was asked which commandment is the greatest, he gave only two:

But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him,Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?And He said to him,YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it,YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.1

It’s that second one that speaks to me about my attitude and failure; Love my neighbor as I love myself. What I realize is that I love me and I will go to great lengths to prove my love for me. That may mean treating myself to some chocolate cake, buying shoes or clothes, the car I want, or traveling to a place I’ve wanted to go. I do these things because I love me.

So I may fail as a result of those first three situations, but it’s OK because I still love me. I may be disappointed and even frustrated, but I’m not angry at me because, I love me. But situation number four has always resulted in me being angry at God for denying me and I see now that I failed in the first commandment to love God to the same degree that I love myself. I don’t question my love for me, and I don’t question God’s love for me; I know both are true. However, I have to question my love for God because when I’ve failed because He says, “Take a number”, I don’t love Him the way I love myself; I’m being selfish towards God.

I don’t know why God sometimes says “Take a number”, but He’s God and that’s His prerogative as The Sovereign Lord; His ways and thoughts are not mine. I no longer want to be selfish towards God (or anyone else for that matter). At a minimum, I want to love God as I love myself. I also realize that when God says, “Take a number”, it doesn’t mean never.

I believe this because of something I read in scripture:

The Syrophoenician woman, image courtesy of The Bible Revival

Jesus got up and went away from there to the region of Tyre. And when He had entered a house, He wanted no one to know of it; yet He could not escape notice. But after hearing of Him, a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately came and fell at His feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of the Syrophoenician race. And she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter. And He was saying to her,Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.But she answered and said to Him,Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table feed on the children's crumbs.And He said to her,Because of this answer go; the demon has gone out of your daughter.And going back to her home, she found the child lying on the bed, the demon having left."2

This scripture reminds me that just before the sun rises; it may seem to be the darkest time of my life. In Mark, the bible speaks of a woman who came to Jesus asking Him to heal her daughter who was possessed by an unclean spirit. Because the woman was a Syrophoenician (a Gentile), Jesus essentially told her to take a number. Now if you’ve ever had to wait in line for someone to call your number, imagine what it would feel like if the ticket you were holding had no number.

Would you wait as long as it took for an answer, or would you just become frustrated and give up?

Giving up isn’t just my not trusting God, it’s my not loving God as well.

But this woman demonstrates that she not only believes in Jesus, she loves Him to the degree that she’ll accept whatever attention He gives her because:
  1. She doesn’t need an answer packaged in a beautiful wrapping paper and ribbon.
  2. She doesn't demand to be given a seat at the dinner table.
  3. She doesn't demand a plate to go.
  4. She’s perfectly willing to accept the crumbs that fall from the table for the dogs to eat.
So often, I’ve thought that God’s blessing must be equivalent to my expectations; my expectation would always dictate my perception of the proportional size of God's blessings.

I didn’t want just a slice of cake, I wanted the whole cake!

What I see in this woman’s example is that the size of the blessing is irrelevant, because even a crumb from Jesus was enough to heal her daughter. She didn’t need Jesus to give a sixty minute sermon on how he would heal her daughter. She didn’t need to live in the lap of luxury to experience the healing of her daughter.

She understood that even the tiniest granule of blessing from Jesus was sufficient enough to accomplish all she needed.

She was at her edge of darkness, yet she knew dawn was coming.

She knew this because she was unwilling to give up loving Jesus, in exchange for living a life of disappointment and frustration. I heard a preacher once say that when you get a slice of cake, it contains the same ingredients as the whole cake. That cake has eggs, flour, sugar, flavor and everything put in the batter; so does a slice of that same cake.

My ticket has all that too!

Although it may seem like God is only saying, “Take a number”, perhaps I’ve been rejecting my ticket that reserves a slice of cake for me. As a result, I was demonstrating my lack of love for God by refusing to accept my ticket; believing instead that I would never get a slice. I believed that ticket held no value for me.

But that’s not the case anymore!

I’ll love God in my darkest hour just as much as I love myself. I’m making choices to please Him, not that I may curry His favor, but because I want to love Him. I’m not giving up on God.

What I’ve come to realize is that God hasn’t given up on me. Whether it’s a slice of cake or just a crumb, I believe God will provide it. Even if He says, “Take a number”, that’s good enough for me because that ticket has all the ingredients I need for an answer to my prayer.

Spiritual SundaysNote: This post is linked to Spiritual Sundays (hosted by Charlotte and Ginger).
Footnotes:
  1. Matthew 22:34-40, NASB
  2. Mark 7:24-30, NASB
References:
  1. The Ryrie Study Bible (New American Standard Version), Edited by Charles C. Ryrie, Moody Publishers, Chicago, Illinois, ISBN 0-8024-8920-6
  2. The NIV Study Bible, Edited by Kenneth Barker, Donald Burdick, John Stek, Walter Wessel and Ronald Youngblood, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530, USA

Friday, January 21, 2011

He's into the Details

But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.1

I’ve always thought of myself as a Big-Picture guy. I’m the guy that looks at something from a high-level view and depends on someone else to handle the details. That’s never been a problem in my profession because technology was my enabler. If there were steps forgotten, technology would always bail me out by identifying a problem. My philosophy was computers think faster than me, so let technology crunch the numbers. I can walk up to a fabulous painting and all I see is a painting. Often, I fail to see the tapestry of colors on the canvas, the subtle nuances of expressions and shapes, or even acknowledge the emotions a painting evokes.

You could say, I wasn’t into the details.

Unlike me, God is very much into the details. While the effort it would take for me to count the hairs on even the skimpiest head would be monumental, God simply knows. The fact is that God knows everything and it takes no recognizable effort on His part to simply know. I cannot fathom simply knowing all; it is beyond my reasoning and understanding. In spite of that, I’m so very thankful that God knows all because it means He knows the details in such a way that nothing pertaining to my life (or yours) comes as a surprise to God. I cannot count the number of times I’ve been caught off guard due to ignorance, absence of information, or just my plain old forgetfulness.

All the words of my mouth are just; none of them is crooked or perverse. To the discerning all of them are right; they are upright to those who have found knowledge. Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her.2

God has me looking at my life, stressing the need for me to get into the details. When God says, “All the words of my mouth…” glossing over what God imparts is missing quite a bit of wisdom that would help me spiritually, emotionally and physically. I tell myself that, God wants all of me, but I forget that part of my heart reserved for me, I forget the details of my stubborn willfulness, and I neglect certain behaviors by ascribing them as just being me.

I say I want to grow spiritually. To achieve spiritual growth, I need to get into the details of my life with God. I can hear Paul McCartney singing:

Someone’s knocking at the door
Somebody’s ringing the bell
Someone’s knocking at the door
Somebody’s ringing the bell
Do me a favor
Open the door and let em in

Time for me to get into the details:

God is knocking at my door
God is ringing my bell
God is knocking at my door
God is ringing my bell
Do me a favor
Open the door and let Him in


Note: This post is linked to Spiritual Sundays (hosted by Charlotte and Ginger).Spiritual Sundays
Footnotes:
  1. Matthew 10:30, NASB
  2. Proverbs 8:8-11, NASB
References:
  1. The Ryrie Study Bible (New American Standard Version), Edited by Charles C. Ryrie, Moody Publishers, Chicago, Illinois, ISBN 0-8024-8920-6
  2. The NIV Study Bible, Edited by Kenneth Barker, Donald Burdick, John Stek, Walter Wessel and Ronald Youngblood, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530, USA

Friday, January 14, 2011

Rescue Me

After my morning prayer, my thoughts reflected on what it felt like to be in jail. Although it happened many years ago, I still remember the vivid details of my brief incarceration. Jail strips away at your identity until you no longer have one; you become part of a system that feeds on human flesh. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t condemn the criminal justice system. Without it, our society would be in chaos, but it doesn’t seem to measure up to its name; Department of Corrections.

As I thought back to how alone, helpless, hopeless and desperate I felt, confined in a small room, sitting on a metal bed, I wanted to be rescued. I’ve had that same thought so many times since that night; I want to be rescued. My prayers often convey to God my need for guidance, understanding, or forgiveness:
  1. I want to be rescued from my uncertainties.
  2. I want to be rescued from my confusion.
  3. I want to be rescued from my transgressions.
In jail, there is nothing I can do to remedy my circumstances. I may want to plead for the mercy of the court but during my confinement, there is no judicial proceeding. I didn’t know God at that time (although He knew me), but today, when I find myself confined by my circumstances, I can pray.

Prayer allows me to express to the one person who will listen to my voice. I pray to the Sovereign Lord who sees me not only in my circumstance, but knows what lies ahead for me; whether it’s the next minute, hour, day, week, month, year or lifetime, God sees all of my unfolded life. God knows what’s coming and He knows where I’m going. I may not know what lies ahead for me, but God has given me a reason to trust Him with my life; the reason is found in the life of His Son, Jesus Christ.

In jail, I was panic-stricken; I couldn’t trust anyone. I wanted help, I certainly needed help; but I didn't trust those around me. Today, I only seek help from the Lord. The bible says, “…If God is for us, who is against us?1 To know that no matter what happens, God is with me, is the reassurance I need to dispel any doubt, fear, and panic. I confess to Him, that, even if all around me is sinking sand, I know that I stand on the Rock that is Christ. I have called out to the Lord just as Peter did that night when he saw Christ walking on the water:

Peter said to Him,Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’”2

Faith in Christ isn’t just asking to walk with Christ; it’s actually walking with Him through the troubled waters of my life. It’s learning the truth of His words:

…Since God assured us,I'll never let you down, never walk off and leave you,we can boldly quote,
God is there, ready to help;
I'm fearless no matter what.
Who or what can get to me?
3

Trusting the Lord is the only option that truly never disappoints. Life holds the potential to disappoint me, friends and family may disappointment me, but Christ will never disappoint me. The promise and provision of The Sovereign God assures me of His concern and love.

Christ will rescue me!

Eternal God and Father,

I find such reassurance in Your word. You are Truth and Light to me; I have no reason to fear. You are with me. During the past week, many have suffered tragedy. Some have lost homes due to flooding, some have lost loved ones through sickness or accident. Some have lost loved ones through senseless violence. Whatever the circumstances are Lord, we grieve and express our sorrows with them. I thank You Lord God that no matter what happens in my life, You always love and care; Your grace is sufficient. May all who call on the name of the Lord, continue to trust and hope in You. Amen.


Note: This post is linked to Spiritual Sundays (hosted by Charlotte and Ginger).Spiritual Sundays

Footnotes:
  1. Romans 8:31, NASB
  2. Matthew 14:28, NASB
  3. Hebrews 13:5-6, The Message
References:
  1. The Ryrie Study Bible (New American Standard Version), Edited by Charles C. Ryrie, Moody Publishers, Chicago, Illinois, ISBN 0-8024-8920-6
  2. The Message Bible, by Eugene H. Peterson, NavPress Publishing Group, Colorado Springs, CO, ISBN-13: 978-1600060250

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Just A Few Words

Hello Everyone,

My thanks to each of you for sharing your thoughts this past year. Quite honestly, I am in awe of the grace our God pours out so richly upon us. Some of you have shared your hurts, griefs, and extraordinary circumstances; through it all, our God remained faithful.

I wanted to take a moment to answer a question (asked in my last post) from my brother in Christ, and fellow blogger, Ian Curtis (What's in a Name?): "how things are going with your church?"

I'm not sure if this question is in reference to a post I wrote some months ago on worship or if I have somehow erroneously communicated that I have a church. I am not a shepherd (pastor) or teacher.

It was a year ago that I asked God to pull me out of the pig sty I wallowed in for so many years. Years ago, I attended church and then I simply stopped. I could give you a number of reasons, but none would be valid or should find sympathy. What I came to realize towards the end of December, 2009 was that I needed Christ in my life. Why? I was miserable and I made life miserable for those around me.

I began to pray and read the scriptures, at times, I fasted. For months, the Lord remained silent to my voice. I say that God was silent but he actually spoke to my heart with a direction to begin writing. You could say, "God asked" and I refused.

Fortunately for me, I wasn't swallowed up by a whale, but I did have a Jonah-like experience that led me to the place of humility. It wasn't until March, 2010, that I agreed to begin this blog. I wanted to remain unseen. I didn't want to create any controversy. I thought God should be happy.

As I began reading and writing, I met so many Christians who spoke of a faith that challenged their life. Christians who wrote with passion and concern. So many of you challenged me to stand on the ground of faith in Christ Jesus. So many around me were standing as a kind of cloud of witnesses that I began to stand up from my fetal position and walk.

I was still asking God to speak to me but He remained silent. I begged for just one word, anything, Just say something Lord. I wondered if what I was doing was worthless, that I should just give up. But something in me wouldn't allow it. I cried to the Lord and confessed, "Even if what I'm doing is worthless, pointless and useless, I'm not giving up. If my name is the last one in the book, it will be just fine by me Lord."

Something happened, I can't point to a single, significant event, but I will say that, God restored the joy of my salvation. His word became alive in me. I no longer concerned myself with an external image and concept of myself; I just wanted to worship and serve the Lord with a comittment. I have a passion for Jesus Christ and I'm learning to love my neighbor. I've come to realize, that serving Christ without a passion is exactly what the devil desired of me. I have no desire to go back to that old life, a life lacking in love, passion and joy. A life without peace. A life of just going through the motions of living, but not experiencing any fullness of joy for life.

One of the things the Holy Spirit has been revealing to me, is the height, depth and extent that God's grace traveled to release me from my prison. I cannot grasp that kind of love, but it is so appreciated. God's grace has given me a true revelation of love and forgiveness; I can do no less than what was given to me.

There are so many Christians, my wife, family and friends (both near and far) who've encouraged and supported me. I want to honor our Lord and each of you by the life I live for Christ.

Blessings and peace.

MTJ