23 July 2009

"A Good Servant of Christ Jesus"... part 2

Do not neglect the spiritual gift you received through the prophecy spoken over you when the elders of the church laid their hands on you. Give your complete attention to these matters. Throw yourself into your task so that everyone will see your progress. Keep a close watch on how you live and your teaching. Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you. (1 Timothy 4:14-16)

This passage in 1 Timothy really stood out to me as my husband and I venture into the world of ministry. He grew up in a Christian home, but did not really come into a relationship with the Lord until shortly after I did 5 1/2 years ago. In this time, we have taken on roles in the church (he on the worship team singing, and I was the events coordinator for mid 2007-2008)... but ministry work is still very new to us, and I think we are both a bit apprehensive.

Our current pastor asked us to host an Alpha lifegroup in our home on WSMR (30 miles outside of Las Cruces), and we immediately accepted the challenge. We did not really need to discuss or think about it.... I think we both knew immediately that this was something that the Lord wanted us to do- to reach out to the lost military stationed at our post. We will be presenting the foundations of our Christina beliefs, in an atmosphere without pressure, to those who are seeking spiritual answers. And we know that there is potential for a continued group meeting in our homes after the course is over for those who join the faith. Although we are hosting, and not leading, the Alpha course... we would most likely be in the leadership role for whatever the group decides to continue into.

I wish that I could remember all the things that were spoken over me (as the passage advises), but I do have a pretty good idea of some of the spiritual giftings that God has placed in me. And I know he wants to use these giftings in me and through me to reach and help others around me. And I have to admit that this is a bit scary. But I know from experience that when the Lord calls us, and we step out in obedience, He will build both our faith and our confidence.

I like what Paul says here...

Throw yourself into your task so that everyone will see your progress. Keep a close watch on how you live and your teaching. Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you.

It is a good reminder that we need to be doing what God is calling us to.... and to focus on living the way He wants us to.... because the consequences of not doing it is not just that we mess up our own lives. No, Paul makes it quite clear that what we do affects those around us as well.

The main focus the the sermon yesterday at church was... "It's not about me!" We all tend to get so self focused sometimes.... and when we are only thinking about ourselves, we are leaving God out of it... thus we are unable to hear Him or really work for Him in His Kingdom. And I think that ultimately, even when we are not focusing on ourselves, but on God and serving Him... and things are going well in our lives because our focus is inward... it is still amazing to recognize that it is not about us. Even though we are getting blessed, our blessings are a testimony to reach others for God.

It is amazing how He works!

Lord God, I want to be a good servant of Christ Jesus. Thank you that you have saved me, pulled me up from the muck I lived in for so long, and cleansed me for your glory. Work through me and my husband as we seek to reach out to the lost. Help us keep our focus on you Lord, and not on our own troubles and anxieties. Help us to always remember that our lives are a living testimony that can determine not only our walk with you, but influence the walk of others as well. Please soften the hearts of those you will call to our Alpha group, and give us strength and courage to continue to take each new step as you call us into ministry work for the Kingdom of God. I love you. Amen.

"A Good Servant of Christ Jesus"...part 1

1 Timothy 4 opens with Paul's warning to his spiritual son, Timothy, that in the last days, many will turn from the faith (and sound teachings) and will instead turn to deceiving spirits, and their consciences will have been seared.

Now the Holy Spirit tells us that in the last times some will turn away from true faith; they will follow deceptive spirits and teaching that come from demons. These people are hypocrites and liars, and their consciences are dead. (1 Timothy 4:1-2)

He goes on to talk to Timothy about staying true to God and Christ by how he teaches.

If you explain these things to the brothers and sisters, Timothy, you will be a worthy servant of Christ Jesus, one who is nourished by the message of faith and the good teaching you have followed. Do not waste time arguing over godless ideas and old wives' tales. Instead, train yourself to be godly. "Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come." This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it. This is why we work hard and continue to struggle, for our hope is in the living God, who is Savior of all people and particularly all believers. (1 Timothy 4:6-10)

Wow...how many times do we waste our time with people arguing over those things that have no eternal value? We allow ourselves to get so wrapped up in stuff that really has no true significance, all the while ignoring the quest we should have... to train ourselves to be godly. When we put the world in its right place, and instead focus on growing in our spiritual life, we grow in ways that far exceed only this world.... we gain benefits in this life and the one to come.

But how do we grow spiritually? I would love to be able to say that we can all just be good little Christians and set our minds only on the things of God. We can put the world in its place, pick up our Bibles, and be warriors for God. We can pray and seek Him, and everything will go our way... nothing bad will ever happen to us because of this wonderful relationship we have with our Lord.

Unfortunately, this is what I think many believers believe.... and this would be some of the false teaching from deceiving spirits that was aforementioned in the text above. If you believe this, then I am telling you right now that Satan is lying to you, and you are lying to yourself. Paul says right in this text that we have to work hard and struggle (or suffer) in our pursuit of godliness.

Because the truth is that it is in our struggles and our suffering that we grow in faith and character, thus "training for godliness". Without struggles and suffering in our lives, we tend to think we have it all together. We become prideful and self sufficient, and we do the exact opposite of turning to God and trusting that He will provide for us.

Oh, we may do it for a little while, but sooner or later (just like the Isrealites), we all forget the wonderful things the Lord has done for us in our times of great need... and we stop turning to Him constantly (if we even did to begin with), until the next time our lives begin to fall apart and we get overwhelmed. Then once we get to the absolute end of ourselves, we suddenly remember how God came through for us the last time, and we take our trust in ourselves and move it back to a trust in God.

So this is what suddenly occurs to me as I write this....

We should know when we do not make pursuing godliness our ultimate goal, exactly where that leads..... sin, temptation, pride, self sufficiency. We allow the world, and Satan, to get a hook in us for awhile, thus causing pain and suffering. At this point, we have two choices. Either turn away from God and give into the world (though this will ultimately lead to more pain and suffering)... OR... we turn to God, repent, learn to depend on Him again, and ultimately grow in our character and godliness.

BUT... what of the thinking that life would just be wonderful and rosy if we did learn to always turn to God first? If we stayed in His word each and every day? If we prayed and communicated with our Lord and Savior at times other than when we are in trouble? What happens when we set ourselves on pursuing godliness instead of the world? (as Paul suggests in this text?)

I can tell you.... persecution and spiritual warfare. Last month, my family experienced much of this during a time where we were pursuing God and his godliness in our lives and in our God given quest to help my longest and dearest friend.

And let me tell you (as I am sure many of you already know), spiritual attack can be just as tiring and painful as the times we get ourselves in a mess with the world. But it is through the struggles and suffering of this spiritual warfare that will grow our faith and character, just as with the struggles we face in the world. However, when I take a hard look at these experiences, I can see how much greater my faith grows when my struggles are combined with my pursuit of godliness, rather than my struggles with the world. When I am seeking after God and godliness, I am "a worthy servant of Christ Jesus, one who is nourished by the message of faith and the good teaching you have followed". My hope is in God!

So I must come to the dramatic conclusion that we simply cannot avoid struggles and suffering. Bottom line is this... you are either suffering for Christ, or suffering for the world. We can serve Christ, or serve the world. We can try to run away, or we can face it head on and let the Lord grow our character. I choose to be strong in Him!

Lord God, thank you for your true and living word that speaks to us each time we seek it with an open heart. Lord, struggles and suffering are not fun, but I choose to let you use these things in my life to strengthen and grow me to be the child of God you want me to become. Forgive me for the times I forget your faithfulness and try to tackle this world on my own. You are my hope and my strength. Use my life and my voice to reach your children. I love you. Amen.

06 July 2009

Freedom Is Not a One-time Event

This Sunday, I think in honor of our country's birthday and "Independence Day", my pastor gave a sermon on freedom, titled "How to be Totally Free".

We live in a "free country". We do not live under government oppression or dictatorship. We are free to choose how to live our lives, how to worship, who to marry, what career to follow, and so on. But the truth is, most of us are not really living "free" lives.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galations 5:1

Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free." They answered Him, "We are Abraham's descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can you say, 'You will be made free'?" Jesus answered them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave to sin and a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed." John 8:31-36

I have been trying to walk on this road of freedom for quite awhile now. I have gone through this healing journey where God has been setting me free. But somehow I think my thinking has gotten a bit off track... because lately I have been struggling to walk through this freedom. Maybe I had it set in my mind that once you have been freed, then everything will just automatically fall into place and there will never be another problem in that area again.

I know, I know.... wishful thinking. But how often to we really believe something deep down even though on the surface we may think we are believing something else? And we must look at our behavior to determine which beliefs we are really following. On the surface, it is logical to think that of course we need to keep turning to God daily, to pick up our cross daily, to say "no" to our flesh daily.... but if deep down we think, "once free, always free and I never have to deal with it again", then we are setting ourselves up for trouble.

Here is my personal example of this folly-thinking.... In 2007, God freed me of my eating addictions. For a year, I consistently walked out this freedom. Each day I picked up my cross and said "NO" to my flesh. However, since moving to NM, I have struggled. I got lazy. I got selfish. I began to indulge my flesh in tiny ways and used stress and uncertainty as my excuses. I chose to believe that I am free, therefore I need not do any of the work. Over time I somewhere gave up my complete surrender in this area.... I was not surrendering daily to my Lord.

Sure, when things are going well and easy in my life, it is much easier to coast through and think that I am still free. But when things get hard and/or challenging, the food becomes a subtle comfort I have come to rely on all the while still thinking in my head I that I have been set free, so I have NO problems. And the flesh has no trouble finding excuses.

My oldest and dearest friend came to stay with me (with her three daughters) for just under a month. During this time, there was much Spiritual attack going on, and much warfare on our behalf. It was a tiring time, though God was so working through these circumstances in such awesome ways.

My friend and her daughters eat... a lot. They have high metabolisms and blood sugar issues that require eating several times a day. So while they ate, I ate. Unfortunately, my body does not require the amount of food (nor as frequently) as what they eat... yet I was on some levels trying to "keep up with them".... or at least this is the excuse my flesh clung to. But the truth is, if I was still walking out my freedom from food issues, I would have said no each time my body did not need that food... regardless of the fact that it was almost always healthy food I was eating. My body didn't need it, but I ate anyway.

Then I told myself that once they went home, I would return to my "normal" eating habits and lose the 5 pounds I gained while they were here. But of course now that they are home.... my flesh still wants the food, because the reality is that I have not been free for awhile. If you feed the flesh, the flesh gets stronger. And the only way to defeat the flesh is to feed the spirit while starving the flesh. Well, I am sure that all you fellow food addicts will agree with me that STARVING is not a word that us food lovers like... AT ALL. But that is the reality. If I do not say no to my flesh, my spirit will not grow. And I want my spirit to grow... not my weight.

So here I am, finally admitting that I have basically walked away from my freedom, all the while somewhat beating myself up because of it, while still wanting to feed my flesh. And there have been emotional/spiritual things I have been putting off facing.... thus continuing my cycle of turning to my flesh rather than feeding my spirit. So let's just say that hearing a sermon on freedom was exactly what I needed to hear this past Sunday morning. And my pastor made a statement that reached deep to the core of me.

"True freedom must be fought for and maintained. Total freedom is not just getting free; it is staying free. Do you have a passion for freedom in your spirit?"

Wow! Did I need to hear that, or what?!!! He went on to talk about how God can free us, but we have the ability to fall back into bondage. Then he went on to quote a great patriot of our country, Patrick Henry:

(The cry of a freedom fighter)..."Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid I, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"

This is what each of our hearts should cry out in the face of spiritual chains and bondage...."give me liberty, or give me death!" We should all have this passion so deep in our souls that we will do anything to find freedom, to break free from our chains. I had this passion once.... and I must find it again!

As I was reading in my Bible this morning, I read the following passage in the psalms:

"Who may climb the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? Only those whose hands and hearts are pure, who do not worship idols and never tell lies. They will receive the Lord's blessing and have a right relationship with God their savior. Such people may seek you and worship in your presence, O God of Jacob." Psalm 24:3-6 NLT

It occurred to me that when you look the chains of bondage that enslaves most of us, they are really an idol in disguise. We are worshiping food or television or material possessions or chemical substances or celebrities or relationships... the list can really go on and on. Our hands and hearts are not pure, and we are just lying to ourselves about who or what we are really worshiping in these chains of slavery. Everytime I choose to put food in my mouth that I do not need because it brings me comfort, I am denying the power of my Lord who died for me, and instead I am choosing to worship the God of this world, the father of lies, the enemy of my soul. I am saying that God is not enough for me, Jesus is not enough for me because I have to use something else (food, entertainment, possessions) to fill that hole that only Jesus can fill. And Satan has me right where he wants me.

Climbing the "mountain of the Lord" is hard work..... very hard work. But it is what we all must do to be right with the Lord and receive His blessings. I want to seek the Lord. I want to worship in His presence. Because the truth is, He is so much better than all other idols combined!!!

The thesis to Sunday's sermon was this: "To walk in total freedom we must face facts, reject lies and myths, and receive revelation of God's truth presently applied to our life."

Are you ready?

Lord God, thank you that you offer us freedom from all the slavery this world engulfs us in. There is no condemnation in you, Christ Jesus. You love us and died for our sins, to pay the price that we may be free. Forgive me Lord for falling away from the freedom You have given me. I choose to walk in Your ways, to climb Your mountain, to turn away from sin and take every thought captive as your word commands. Thank you for Your Word and guidance. Please continue to speak Your Truth into my heart and spirit, to dispell the lies of the enemy of my soul. I love you. Amen.

April 2005

April 2005
Justin, Kim, Nikki, & Tricia

October 2011

October 2011