Friday, October 27, 2023

"This is not about you"

I was listening to a message given by Nabeel Qureshi, a man who was raised a devout Muslim and later came to know Jesus not as a distant, promised Messiah in Islam but as the personal, crucified, and resurrected Messiah of Christianity. He was talking about the heart-wrenching moment when he told his parents he had converted to Christianity and watched it break their hearts. He spoke of how he fell to his knees after they left, crying out to God, asking why he hadn't just been allowed to die when he first believed because it would have saved him and his parents so much pain.

He said that he then heard a Voice say, "Because this is not about you."

Those words struck me. Not because I have a testimony like Nabeel's... but because I don't.

It's something I've struggled with for a long time, and something a lot of us who were brought up in the church have struggled with. We hear dramatic testimonies--people who were in dark, dangerous places who experience God in a mighty, incredible way and whose lives are miraculously transformed--and feel almost ashamed that our own testimony is so mundane. I'm involved in a wonderful ministry called Higher Ground where I hear those stories over and over, and I'm amazed by them. Men and women who were mired in the muck of addiction, or were locked behind prison bars, or had faced horrific circumstances--then God stepped in. Through their stories, He showed His power. He reached down into the dark places, grabbed hold of them, and transformed the ashes of their lives into unbelievable pictures of His love. When they share the stories of how God transformed their lives, there is no doubt that it could only happen through God.

But that's never been my story.

I was carried to church as a baby, went to Sunday School and VBS and Children's Church and GAs and Acteens and Super Summer Church Camp and choir practice. I asked Jesus to be my Savior and was baptized at 9 years old. My life has been blessed beyond measure. While I've had struggles and setbacks along the way, as everyone has, I know that the life I've lived has been absolutely full of wonderful people, experiences, and things I could never deserve. I haven't faced the kind of darkness that leads to despair, shattered dreams, and broken lives.

Instead, I've lived surrounded by people who have experienced God's calling on their lives. I've watched them follow Him and I've seen the impact they have had on others, the way they have led people to Christ or guided them through dark times and hard decisions. From an early age, I've known that the most important aspect of life isn't being successful, wealthy, or popular. Instead, life is about being in God's will and lining your life up with His plan. It isn't about doing what makes you feel fulfilled; it is about obeying God's call on your life.

In my youth, I thought that would look like me traveling across the world. I chose to study French because it was a language prevalent throughout Africa, and I dreamed of living the life of a missionary, becoming part of a small village somewhere, showing God's love and teaching His word. Even at one point in my adult life, my parents mentioned that they thought they would be visiting me in the mission field some day.

That's not how life has turned out for me, though. It isn't a bad thing--like I said, I've been blessed beyond measure. I love my family and I love the home we are making together (even if the 7 of us feel a bit crammed from time to time). I have a job I'm good at, where I work with people who make it a point to tell me how much they appreciate me. Things aren't perfect, but I know I'm living a good life.

Still, there's been this nagging feeling that I haven't found God's calling on my life.

There have been times when I thought I did, but then for one reason or another the roles I thought I would fill haven't come to be. The paths I thought God was laying out in front of me have come to abrupt stops in some cases, or in others the path has just seemed to disappear into the weeds. I've found myself crying out to God, begging Him to tell me what He wants me to do for Him, what His calling on my life is, only to be met with silence. It has led to painful thoughts creeping into my head, thoughts like, "Maybe God just doesn't want to use me" or "Maybe somehow I've missed His calling." It has led to doubts and tears and questions I can't answer and feelings of inadequacy.

But then I heard Nabeel relay God's message: "This is not about you."

No, I haven't ever heard God speak to me as Nabeel describes. If I'm being honest, more often than not I feel like God is being silent. I don't know His calling on my life. I've begged for Him to use me and gotten no response. But what if my prayers have been out of my own need to feel competent and to somehow try to show that I'm enough instead of out of a desire to see God glorified? What if God is trying to teach me something through His silence? What if He's showing me that this isn't about me? That it doesn't matter what I do for Him, because He's already done everything for me? That He doesn't need my abilities or my competence--His will can be accomplished without them.

My dad's favorite verse is Micah 6:8, but it comes from earlier in the Scriptures:

"And now, Israel, what is the Eternal your God asking of you?
Only that you fear Him, live as He wants you to, and love Him;
serve Him with every part of you, heart and soul;
and obey His commands and rules, which I'm giving you today for your good."
(Deuteronomy 10:12 & 13)

God, please help me to take the focus off of myself and what I can do. Help me instead to focus on You and what You have done, on what You are doing in the world around me--even without my help. Help me to fear You, live as You want me to, love You, serve You with all of me, and obey Your commands. Help me to see that it doesn't matter what I may or may not be called to do for You, because You have called me to You.

Monday, October 9, 2023

tear off the roof

 I've just spent a weekend serving on the Higher Ground Experience, where so many have seen first-hand the power described in this song. If you're facing heartbreaking, mind numbing struggles in your life, know that

"There’s power in the presence
Power in the blood, powеr in the name of Jesus
And Hе has more in the hem of His garment
Than the camp of the enemy

There is a life changing
Grave shaking, dead raising power in the room
Heart-healing, hell-stealing
No ceiling power, so tear off the roof"

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

What is the cost of free?

 There's a small country church in our community that makes it a point to love on people through loving on the school. They show up in support all the time, but one of the main things they do each year (usually more than once) is by taking over the concession stand for a home basketball game night. They run the stand for every game that night, and they don't charge anyone for anything.

When I was teaching, kids would be talking about the "free concessions" all day for those games. They would talk about everything they would get since it was free. I tried to make it a point to remind them that the concessions weren't free--they were just being paid for by somebody else. Because during those games, that church keeps track of everything they give people--and at the end of the night, they pay for everything. Those nights are far from free. If you've ever had dinner at a basketball game, you know how much it costs to even get a simple, basic meal: typically $2 for a drink, $4-5 for the main entree, and another $1-2 for a side/candy, or somewhere around $10 per person if they are just getting one meal. What happens when you tell a whole gym full of people that they can get anything they want from the concession stand for the whole night without paying?

Though it is a gift for everyone at the games that night, for that church there is a high price.

The same can be said for our rights and freedoms in the United States. Millions of us have been given a gift that we think of as free--we stress that we have very specific rights that are granted by our Creator, the rights and freedoms that are outlined in the Constitution. We look at them as guaranteed, but too often we forget that they weren't--and aren't--free. There have been men and women throughout the history of our nation who have paid for those rights and freedoms. They have given their time and service, and a vast number of them have given their lives.

Though it is a gift for the rest of us, for the men and women who serve in the military there is a high price.

Most importantly, though, is the gift of salvation. For us, it is the ultimate free gift:

"4 But God, with the unfathomable richness of His love and mercy focused on us,
united us with the Anointed One and infused our lifeless souls with life—
even though we were buried under mountains of sin—
and saved us by His grace.

He raised us up with Him and seated us in the heavenly realms
with our beloved Jesus the Anointed, the Liberating King.

He did this for a reason: so that for all eternity we will stand as a living testimony
to the incredible riches of His grace and kindness
that He freely gives to us by uniting us with Jesus the Anointed.

8-9 For it’s by God’s grace that you have been saved.
You receive it through faith. It was not our plan or our effort.
It is God’s gift, pure and simple.
You didn’t earn it, not one of us did,
so don’t go around bragging that you must have done something amazing.

10 For we are the product of His hand,
heaven’s poetry etched on lives,
created in the Anointed, Jesus,
to accomplish the good works God arranged long ago."

(Ephesians 2:4-10)

So often, we focus on the fact that our salvation doesn't cost us anything. Oh, we're thankful for it. We point out that we could never get to heaven on our own, and we talk about grace as "undeserved favor" that we can't earn. But how often do we think to stop and think about the cost of our salvation?

We know Yeshua came to earth, but what does that mean? John tells us, "In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were made through Him, and apart from Him nothing was made that has come into being." (John 1:1-3, TLV) Think about that for a second--through Christ, all of creation came to be. He was there from the beginning, worshiped and exalted, seated in the throne room of heaven next to the Father. He was surrounded by the heavenly hosts calling Him worthy and holy. And yet, He stepped out of all of that.

He chose to humble Himself, to have His glory and power contained in the weak, fragile vessel of those He created.

He chose to come to earth, to be confined by time, to face all the trials and temptations that we face.

He chose to watch a friend betray Him, then watch almost every other friend walk away.

He chose to let Himself be whipped, beaten, mocked, and spit on.

He chose to let Himself be led to the top of a hill He formed so He could be nailed to a tree He created.

"Who, though existing in the form of God,
did not consider being equal to God a thing to be grasped.
But He emptied Himself—

taking on the form of a slave,
becoming the likeness of men
and being found in appearance as a man.
He humbled Himself—

becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross."
(Philippians 2:6-8)

He chose, while hanging there in agony, enduring the excruciating pain of that death, to ask the Father to forgive the ones who put Him there.

He chose to forgive us, to take the punishment we deserve.

What a high price to pay for us to be free.


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