Value of sacrifice

At the great reckoning, many who trusted in ministry will be shocked to see people less gifted or fruitful honoured for their wholehearted devotion to God.

Afflicted and in pain— may your salvation, God, protect me. I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving. This will please the Lord more than an ox. (Psalm 69v29-31NIV)

The Lord is more pleased with the prayer and worship of someone in a challenging situation than he is with the size of our sacrifices. We look at the good done through sacrifice. An ox would feed a village. What could a poor person’s sacrifice of a bird be to that?

In today’s terms, we sacrifice ourselves and those close to us for ministry. We ask others to join us in this sacrifice, justified by a need for growth. Yet in this we can forget God who is master of the universe. Let us so focus on Jesus and his love that our ministry flows from it.

The poor will see and be glad—  you who seek God, may your hearts live! The Lord hears the needy and does not despise his captive people. (Psalm 69v32-33NIV)

Those who are too poor either emotionally or in time and money to make heroic sacrifices can rejoice that God values our prayers. They are not despised second class citizens to God.

We see this in Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard. The owner pays for willingness to work rather than hours worked.

One thing I ask …

Psalm 27:4 both inspires and challenges.

One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.

First – In praying this I have seen the Lord bear fruit, however I then go on to ask the Lord to give ministry success as well, missing the point that He is sufficient in Himself.

The Lord has been challenging me to be content with ‘one thing’!  Only when willing to be open, that my ‘one’ ministry was to dwell in His house, experiencing the ‘humiliation’ of ‘not doing anything’ did He open the door to further ministry.

Second is the context – I had imagined it as the longings of one far from worries. In fact it is written in conflict. V12 –

Do not hand me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me,  spouting malicious accusations.

David the general has confidence not in his skill, but in the Lord. This confidence comes not from his history of success but from the core of his soul. He has encountered the Lord and seen His goodness in both success and failure. So David is at peace confident of God’s goodness, whatever that may look like. He prays, ‘One thing’ not out of sentimentality but because the outer situation reinforces the need for his core relationship with God to be developed.

The study from which this was derived is found in BibleBase2ADaringFaith

Shades of grey

I was shocked by an exercise of going through the events from Gethsemane to the cross taking the perspective of those who were condemning Jesus. I found it all too easy to understand some in the Sanhedrin voting for His death. The exercise exposed the weakness of my shades of grey, big picture mentality.

Whereas I could not understand those adamantly against Jesus, I found myself understanding those who thought they saw the big picture. I began to understand those who, with reluctance, cast their lot against Jesus thinking that what He was doing could lead to rebellion and suppression by the Romans

At times like that I need the perspective of those who, seeing black and white, stand and say, ‘This is wrong!’ They more than I can see the line in the sand that should never be crossed.

This comes as I struggle while not easily able to delegate.  My shades of grey mentality sees the perspective of busy people doing good things and allows them to walk away while I live on the borders of an unsustainable lifestyle.

Thankfully, my Lord stands and tells me, ‘This is wrong! You have to change!’ The fault lies not with others, but with me for permitting the situation to persist. I need God’s grace to rescue both me and the organisation. I need the voice of others who can come up with imaginative suggestions about who can take over tasks. I need courage to accept the tough decision that some things should be left undone.

Simply Jesus

‘Simply Jesus’

is a great phrase to help us keep perspective when things become complicated.

We need care, there are those for whom the words are a mere bumper sticker. They have heard some Christian leader say the phrase and are convinced this is the totality of the Christian life. Safe in this knowledge, they live life their own way while using the phrase ‘Simply Jesus’ to ward off teaching that might be getting close to their heart or demand any more of them.

One believes the one who proclaims ‘Simply Jesus’ to the extent they have allowed Jesus to penetrate their heart. So when a Christian, two weeks in the faith, gives out wrist bands saying ‘What would Jesus do?’ there is confidence that this person has met with Jesus, and this is a real expression of their journey.  When this is the extent of life and witness for someone who has been twenty years in the faith, one suspects something is missing. On the other hand, when someone who has walked with Jesus for the last twenty years introduces this perspective into a discussion that is becoming complex or stratospheric then it can be a helpful reality check.

‘Simply Jesus’ can bring resolution. For example when Jesus said,

‘Give to God what belongs to God, and to Caesar what belongs to Caesar’

He shifted focus from money to the scope of claims for authority from God and man. When finding balance between extremes, shifting our view up to bring in Jesus often brings resolution.

Two forms of discipleship

Recently it has dawned on me that there are two approaches to discipleship in the Scriptures.

In the Navigators we use the apostolic form of Jesus. This approach focuses on someone willing to follow as an apprentice. In Jesus’ ministry this required leaving behind home comforts and responsibilities to follow. ‘Leaving’ creates space in life for learning.

Many churches use Ephesians 4, where the Lord gives gifts for building the Church. Gifts and people are brought into the Church for the sake of building it up. The focus is on developing the community.

These approaches come with strengths and weaknesses.

The Ephesians 4 approach gives opportunity for a range of gifts. The community stays together, looking after the weakest. It is naturally pastoral. Since it is building itself up it has difficulty releasing people to minister beyond its own scope. It has a hard time developing leadership since this focuses on individuals not the community.

Jesus’ apostolic approach goes to people so it is naturally outward looking. It takes ministry into the world beyond the community. It develops those willing to go with the apostle, valuing the apprentice who is faithful, available and teachable. This approach develops leaders but can leave people behind.

All groups apply a mix of these approaches. Pastoral ministries extend apostolically and apostolic ministries care pastorally. However, the opposite form is like a right handed person writing left handed. Most churches have to send people away for development, most Navigators struggle with care for the weakest.

Who is a disciple of Jesus?

Who is a disciple of Jesus?  Jesus gave two key passages. The first –

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

Often discipleship is measured by fulfilling our leaders’ agenda; attendance at meetings and serving on rotas. Jesus’ indicator is love. Disciples of people, take on their attributes. Jesus’ attribute is love.

If we target love, we identify its characteristics– patience, kindness, … and try to display them. But love is the fruit of discipleship. When roots are watered and the tree healthy, fruit comes.

Jesus directs us to a discipleship where we will be watered and strengthened. The second passage.

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’ Luke 9:23

We follow Jesus who is love himself.

We can follow systems instead of Jesus. We become followers of a movement or church. Jesus challenges us to follow Him alone.

Jesus might present us with a cross. We believed Jesus was taking us one way when a crisis occurs requiring we are diverted from our ambitions and in love attend the crisis.

We are blocked by someone standing against Jesus’ leading. We have to choose to love Jesus over this person. Something dies inside giving space for love.

The complete Bible study on Who is a disciple of Jesus.

Reward with God

What a privilege to participate in Jesus’ ministry. Paul and Barnabas were directed into ministry through Isaiah 49:6:

“… I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,  that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

This verse is not stand alone. How does Isaiah leads into this promise?

First the Lord polishes His arrow and conceals it.

2 .. he made me into a polished arrow  and concealed me in his quiver.

This arrow has to fly true first time and so it receives special attention. Other arrows enjoy their successes in the hunt, this one is polished. It seems a humiliating waste of time.

The Lord seeing the discouragement, speaks tenderly.

3 He said to me, “You are my servant,  Israel, in whom I will display my splendour.”

The Lord gives hope that He will use this servant to display His splendour, however these seem vain words.

4 But I said, “I have laboured in vain;  I have spent my strength for nothing at all.

Polishing is hard work, requiring labour for little visible result.

This frustration finally bears fruit through a change in attitude-

Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand,  and my reward is with my God.”

The surrender of desire to see the outcome. When content that his reward is with God, there is freedom to be used by the Lord without playing to the audience and wrecking the show.

Now the Lord begins to use His polished arrow!

 

The full Bible study can be found at Biblebase2adaringfaith

 

Nice encounters Love

Being nice has become a core value of our age. It is hard to argue against what superficially seems so good. Nice however is rooted in selfishness, with its fear of what people will think and its desire to be liked and gain influence over others.

An example of the difference between nice and love is seen at Jesus’ trial (John 18&19). Pilate has a choice between what his inner being tells him is right or giving in to what the voices of the self-righteous demand. It is a choice between the aspirations of the heart and the fear of hurting the feelings of influential people with the consequent loss of influence.

The contrast with Jesus’ love exposes the shallowness of ‘Nice’. Jesus knows Pilate is being driven by the manipulative forces of the religious leaders, yet He does not try to out manipulate Pilate. Rather, Jesus challenges him with a question that helps Pilate gain perspective. He goes on in love to risk His life by explaining himself with truth that leaves Pilate a clear picture of what is right.  Tragically Pilate gives in to evil.

Only when I trust the Sovereign Lord can I entertain love. He takes me beyond the immediate circumstances. He takes a stand with love, truth and righteousness and invites me to stand with Him. I can do so because I know He has my back.

Let’s despise niceness, this shrivelled and poverty stricken imitation of love and stand with God in truth and love.

Read the Bible study that inspired this Blog.

Nice or Kind?

I have often been ‘Mr Nice Guy’, yet niceness is not godliness. I read up on the difference between nice and kind and was shocked by how different these two words are, when most would consider them synonymous.

My reading suggested that ‘Nice’ has its origin in conflict avoidance and is worked out through fear and selfishness. Since ‘Nice’ avoids conflict it is subject to manipulation from anyone who forcefully demands what they want. Nice tries to arbitrate between factions, while failing to ask, ‘What is or is not acceptable?’

Kindness has its origin in the love of God. The love of God looks for peoples’ development into godliness and love. It recognises a person’s condition with compassion, but is not so patronising as to accept that state for the long term. Those who know God, recognise the grace of God is sufficient to draw us out of crisis and develop godliness and love.

When ‘Nice’ meets an unacceptable situation it avoids the pain of dealing with core issues by smoothing things over, dealing with surface emotions and condemning all involved to repeat the situation. ‘Kind’, in looking for love explores the real issues at a personal cost. ‘Kind’ is willing to be the ‘Bad Guy’, confronting with God’s Truth while looking for His grace, holding people to the best. We see this consistently when Jesus encounters challenging people in the gospels –

For the son of man came, not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45 NIV)

Driven or Complacent

Living in our hurting world our tendency is either, throw ourselves at the problem, driven by the need, or to harden ourselves to the need and wait for God to resolve it Himself. Both these approaches stem from futile thinking and expose our darkened understanding. This darkness comes from a hardened heart that will not allow in the light of Christ.

When I am driven by need I am not experiencing God’s peace. I have allowed ‘self’ to become an idol, and am sacrificing my soul on its altar.

When I sit complacently expecting the Lord to do everything, I have hardened myself to the needs of people and to the call of Christ who gave His life for them.

The solution is not through trying harder, but to return to the life of God. This comes through surrender; a willingness to deny myself, take up the cross and follow Jesus.

Jesus started the great commission,

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Matthew 28:18.

Am I seeking the sovereign ‘ME’ or am I surrendered to the Lord and His kingdom. Am I willing for His results to be different from what theory suggests?

Jesus ended the great commission,

“… surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.”

I must walk with Him in His programme and surrender the appearance of business or spirituality. If He is sitting in the stands then I sit with Him. If He is intervening, then I intervene with Him.

 

The original Bible Study in Ephesians 4:17-19