We have all heard that patience is a virtue, but as virtues go, this one is clearly somewhere toward the bottom of the popularity list.  Heb 6:12 says that we are “to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.” That passage goes on to explain how Abraham was a great example of someone who was given a wonderful promise from the Lord but then had to endure many years of waiting before that promise began to be realized.  Paul tells us in Romans 1 that Abraham’s faith “did not waiver.” But we know that his patience, in fact, did.   The result was the birth of Ishmael.

Several years ago, I found myself in the middle of one of the driest and most difficult seasons of my life as a believer.  After serving as a pastor for a number of years, I was suddenly without a church, without a job, and facing imminent financial bankruptcy.   In the blink of an eye, I had somehow gone from being a “somebody” with a position of influence and authority, to being a “nobody” with seemingly very little to show for all I had been and done with my life.  I was depressed, and most certainly disillusioned by my sorry state of affairs.  And to make matters worse, just a few months earlier my wife and I had a very dramatic encounter with the Lord where he supernaturally spoke beautiful words of promise and future blessing over us.  But this experience was quickly followed by an extended season of testing and trial.  And no matter how much I complained, no matter how passionately I beseeched Him to pull me out of the situational mess I was in, nothing seemed to change.  Unlike some of the testimonies we have all heard, the Lord did not send someone to my door with a big check, a new car, and a lucrative job offer.  Instead of making me feel better, instead of taking some of the situational pressure off, He just got quiet, real quiet.  The Lord was making me wait, and it was killing me.

As a believer, we get to chose how we will respond when the Lord’s promises are not coming to fruition at the pace we had first hoped.  And I have noticed that it is not uncommon for us to try to force His blessings prematurely through the arm of the flesh if our waiting period lingers on for a while.  This is precisely what I did.  Rather than remaining patient and allowing the Lord to develop my faith and perseverance, I began to try to alleviate some of my pain and suffering by “blessing” myself.   For me this came in the form of a 1964 Harley Davidson Sporster.  Granted, I can see why Abraham chose a pretty young maidservant, but there is just something about an old Harley.  And as they say, “If I have to explain it, you wouldn’t understand.”  Even though I had been riding motorcycles for a long time, I had yet to own a Harley.  So finding one for sale, glimmering so beautifully there on the side of the road, and at such a great price!  How could I possibly pass up this opportunity?  It must be God.  At least that is the logic I used as I tried to convince my wife what a wise purchase I was about to make.  Now in reality, this bike was just shy of what Harley riders call a “basket case.”  In other words, all the parts were there, but that was about the extent of it.  Still, as far as I was concerned… well let’s just say that love really can cover a multitude of sins.

So I began the process of restoring this lost treasure that I had discovered just waiting for me there in front of the tattoo parlor.  What a find, a genuine vintage chopper with a sissy bar and a flame job.  I was in heaven, or so I thought.  As the expenses piled up and the repair list seemed to grow exponentially, I began to wonder if my labor of love was such a good idea after all.  In fact, it did not take long to figure out that I was spending more time trying to get this thing to run than I was actually riding it.  Keep in mind, this motorcycle came with only a kick starter.  For you non-riders, that means it did not have one of those little red buttons you push to make your motorcycle roar to life.   That was a luxury I only later found out was virtually impossible to install on this particular model.   So instead, I kicked, and kicked, and kicked, and sweated, and kicked some more, and cussed, and then kicked some more, but often to no avail.  My beloved Harley, that not so long ago had been the obvious solution to all my problems, had now become my cold blooded arch enemy.  And worst of all, all that kicking and thrashing resulted in my having to go through several very painful hernia surgeries.

After months of recovery, I stood there one sunny spring morning looking down on my once beloved motorcycle and debated if a quick ride was really worth what it might cost me.   In that moment, I clearly heard the Lord say, “this is an Ishmael for you.”  I knew exactly what He meant.  Like Abraham, who tried to forcethe Lord’s blessing rather than waiting for it, in my impatience I too had inadvertently caused myself a boat load of pain and hardship.  I was way beyond having a little buyer’s remorse, this motorcycle was literally making me miserable.  In Genesis 16 we are told that even the name Ishmael means “misery.” Fortunately, I was able to sell my Ishmael on E-bay to a big hairy biker from West Virginia.   And I am trusting that one day my Isaac will arrive.  A new Road King would be nice Lord.

The lesson learned is this.  Our heavenly Father most certainly wants to bless His children.  His plans really are to prosper us and not to harm us.  But because only He can see our future with complete clarity, we have to learn to trust that He also must know the best way for us to get there.  He literally has all the time in the world to accomplish His will.  Therefore, it stands to reason that whenever we are in a hurry to get where we are headed, we will often end up somewhere we do not want to be.  In contrast, in Proverbs 10:22we are told by King Solomon that“The blessing of the LORD brings wealth, and he adds no trouble to it. What a concept.   When we wait patiently on the Lord, and we allow Him to bless us, no striving, no pain, no trouble will be added.  That is the kind of favor I am looking for these days, a blessing that is initiated and sustained by God with no additional maintenance required.  Lord Jesus, help us never to doubt the words of blessing you have spoken over us.  We submit ourselves once again to your will and to your perfect timing.

Have you ever seen The Antiques Roadshow on PBS?   Though the premise is remarkably simple, this little TV show has become quite popular.  Every week, hundreds of people stand in line for hours just so that they can have a few moments with an expert appraiser who can tell them how much the item they’ve brought in is actually worth.   The items that make it on the air are usually the ones that most of us would have no clue as to their true value.  In one episode, a young man brings in a rusty old sword.   He tells the appraiser that he and his brothers used to play with the sword when they where kids, and that they often “split watermelons and dug in the dirt” with it.  Without a flinch, the appraiser quietly puts on a pair of white gloves.  He then gives a pair to the young man and asks him to do the same.  He proceeds to explain the origin of what is actually an extremely rare civil war relic.  The painfully clueless owner finds himself rightfully stunned when it’s revealed that the old sword is actually worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.  In another episode, a woman finds an old metal helmet wedged in the rafters of her attic.  She later confesses that she polished it up with Pledge before bringing it in to the show.  This is after the appraiser explains that the helmet is that of a Spanish Conquistador from the early 1500s and worth about a half a million dollars!

It’s hard to comprehend that items with this kind of value can be right under our noses without us even realizing it.  Nonetheless, I’m starting to believe that this kind of thing happens a lot more often than we might think and in more ways than we may be aware.  Hidden worth is truly a fascinating concept and one found frequently in the Scriptures.  Jesus would often speak to large crowds in the form of parables only to then draw away and later explain their meaning to his disciples.   On one such occasion he gave his closest followers the following two parables as further elaboration on his teaching.  “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.  “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.  (Mat 13:44-46)

When we think of the word “treasure” what comes to mind?  Thanks to Hollywood, most of us can easily conjure up images of an old chest full of precious gemstones, or a stack of gold bars.  But the scriptures seem to indicate that this kind of treasure is actually commonplace in the heavenly realms.   In Rev 21 we’re told that the very foundations of the heavenly city’s walls are “decorated with every kind of precious stone.” and that heaven’s gates are each “made of a single pearl.”   John reveals that even the great street of the city is made of “pure gold, like transparent glass.” Can you imagine?  The architect of heaven uses these precious materials like we use concrete, steel, and asphalt.   When Jesus said that the Kingdom was like a “treasure hidden in the field” and the “pearl of great price” it seems that he was simply trying to appeal to our earthly sense of relative value.  Traditionally, we take this passage to mean the Kingdom itself is priceless and worthy of any sacrifice we could ever make.  And yet, like every other passage of scripture, there are undoubtedly deeper levels of truth to be found under the surface of these verses.

Earlier in Mathew, we find Jesus using a similar theme.  “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  (Mat 6:19-2) At one point, I had grown very weary of serving as a pastor in the local church.  Relatively low pay and years of getting bit by sheep had left a gnawing question in my soul.  I asked, “Why do I do this Lord?”   You see, I’m a firm believer that no one will endure hardship or make any kind of long term sacrifice if they are not clear on what the pay-off is.  So as I was praying, I asked the Lord to show me the treasure that I was storing up in heaven.  Almost instantaneously, he began to remind me of people I had ministered to over the years.  Face after face came to mind of those I had somehow encouraged to know the Lord in a deeper way, or prayed with, or taught.  Most of these people I had long since forgotten about or lost touch with.  It was at this point that I began to consider the value of a single human soul.

When we learn to recognize each human life as something the Lord treasures, we cannot help but to treat people differently.  The Gospels reveal this truth repeatedly through the example of Jesus.  The writers of scripture have provided one account after another of the Lord intentionally associating with people that were guaranteed to lower his social standing.  It’s almost as if he was somehow drawn to those relegated to the seedy underside of his culture.  Although he was often pursued by the rich and the well educated, we usually find him going after the “down-and-outers”.   Was it because he was more comfortable hanging out with drunkards and prostitutes?  Maybe, but the fact that the Lord’s behavior is so consistent in this regard means that he was obviously trying to make a point.

In the book of Luke we’re given six consecutive chapters (12-18) of Jesus teaching on the contrast between the values of men and those of the Kingdom of God.  Amidst this section of scripture we find Jesus at the house of a prominent Pharisee watching the other guests jockeying for position.  After publicly humiliating those who had found their way into the best seats in the house, he then addresses the host.  “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:13-14)  Granted, at first glance it would appear that the Lord is encouraging us to practice some sort of reverse favoritism, and certainly that idea is at least implied here.  But the deeper truth must involve our tendency to place greater value on those who we think we can get something from.  More often than not, most of us choose to relate only to those people who we feel might benefit us in some way.  This is a sad, but very real part of all of us if we’ll be honest about it.  By nature, we’re all shameless self-promoters.  Jesus, on the other hand, being fully aware of his own position and value, was able to freely lavish value on those deemed virtually worthless by his contemporaries.

Imagine what we could accomplish if we began to consistently discern the treasure that is every person, regardless of how they’re assessed by others.  An expert appraiser is one who recognizes value in that which most would be quick to overlook or to write off as ordinary.   A treasure hunter is someone who goes to great lengths to acquire that which has been lost and usually long since forgotten.  Our world is chocked full of undiscovered treasures.  Though often in plain sight, these treasures are hidden from most.   In Luke 16:15 we read that “what is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.” Through his example, the Lord demonstrated that the transverse must also be true.

It’s often said that “you can’t take it with you.”  In terms of earthly treasure, this is commonly understood and acknowledged.  The things that we spend so much of our lives trying to attain will ultimately have no place in heaven.  But there is something that we can take with us, something of immeasurable eternal value that we will never cease to enjoy.   It is a treasure so valuable that God himself proved willing to pay the ultimate price to redeem and restore it.  The treasure is you, and me, and the guy standing on the corner with cardboard sign looking for handouts.  Each human life represents equal, yet unfathomable worth regardless of its current level of earthly esteem or prominence.   In fact, in Malachi 3:17 the Lord proclaims that those who fear him, he will “openly declare them to be his jewels. His special possession, and his peculiar treasure.” (Amp.)

We might want to consider how we’re treating that which God values the most.  Do we put on the white gloves, or do we handle one another as commonplace and readily expendable?  Does it matter to us that so many of the Lord’s precious resources have been written off or left behind to decay in some forgotten dusty attic?  There is only one explanation for being careless in our treatment of others.  It’s that somehow we’ve lost sight of their eternal worth.  In the heart of every believer there lies a God-given unction for the discovery and restoration of hidden treasure.  And though it often seems to manifest in the natural, I’m convinced that this desire is deeply rooted in the supernatural part of who we are.  Lord Jesus, your appraisal of us is the only one that really matters.  Please help us to view ourselves and those around us as the multifaceted jewels that you created each of us to be.

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.  But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.  Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.  If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  (Gal 6:1-3)

 

When the apostle Paul gave these words of instruction, it is very possible that he had been made aware of a specific situation within the church of Galatia.  More than likely, someone had been caught in a sinand now it was the responsibility of the church leaders to respond.  If you have ever been in need of restoration, or you have helped someone else through the process, than you may know how difficult it often is to navigate through that particular kind of transaction.  But as awkward and trying as the process of restoration may prove to be, our willingness to participate in it is essential for the overall well being of the local church.  In the verses above, Paul provides some practical wisdom on the “how to” of restoration.

He first gives the scenario, “if someone is caught in a sin.” At the onset, it should be noted that the difficulty and length of an individual’s restoration can be greatly affected by whether they were “caught” or whether they came forward of their own accord.  The scriptures are clear that it is always better to “confess”our sin (1 John 1:9) than to be “found out” by it.  (Num 32:23) We can humble ourselves, which is never easy.  Or we can be humiliated, which is always painful.  If we choose to submit ourselves to another as a result of our own conviction, the process has already begun.  However, if instead we are caught in our sin, and we begin to blame shift or try some other diversionary tactic, than we are in danger of removing ourselves as a candidate for restoration.  Sometimes the person who is caughtmay prove to be unwilling or disinterested in submitting to restoration.  If this is the case, than it is often best to postpone any restorative efforts and simply release them into the Lord’s hands.  Like the prodigal son, sometimes our belly has to get filled up with hog slop before we come to our senses.  Forced repentance is not likely to produce true repentance.

Nonetheless, Jesus showed us in his encounter with the woman “caught”in adultery that restoration is available for all who will receive it.  By pausing to draw in the sand before addressing her accusers, the Lord demonstrated that judgments of this nature are not to be made hastily or without reflection.  Supernatural discernment and the wisdom of heaven are essential if we are to take part in helping a fallen brother or sister back up on their feet.  Paul goes on to say that it is “those who are spiritual”who should attempt to restore others.  Gentle restoration is truly a learned art.  If we handle someone too gracefully, we may fall into enablement and thus set them up for future failure.  If we deal too harshly, they may go underground with their sin and hope never to be exposed again.  This is why we must seek the Lord for His counsel in each individual case rather than relying solely on our experience or personal “know how.”  Each of us is a precious commodity to the Lord and our treatment of one another should reflect that truth.  By taking time to consider the uniqueness and complexity of our brother’s situation, we communicate that we have at least some sense of his eternal value.  Careless judgment will inevitably lead to unrighteous judgment.

“But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. When this verse is taken in context, it would appear that the warning Paul gives here is not about falling into the same sin as the person we are helping to restore.  Instead, his concern seems to be that we may be tempted to feel a little too good about the fact that we are “up” when our brother is currently “down.”  Paul adds, “If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” The real temptation is often for the one doing the restoring to feel some sort of pride in the role they are playing.  Every believer is capable of thinking that we can somehow be elevated in our spiritual position above another based on our current level of “goodness”.  This was the mistake of the older brother who simply could not wrap his mind around the Father’s non-judgmental treatment of the prodigal.   Although we have trouble seeing it in ourselves, self righteousness is usually easy for us to spot in one another.  If we are truly in need of restoration, we would be wise to try to find a facilitator who has nothing to gain personally from our confession or failure.

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”Though simple in principle, biblical burden bearing requires a certain skill set and it must be accompanied by a basic level of revelation about the work of the cross.  For example, a well meaning believer might attempt to serve as a scapegoat or a “sin eater” for another.  Though unintentional and often subconscious, this is a common mistake.  Our goal should always be to get another’s burden onto the Lord as quickly as possible.  It is also common for the person who is facilitating the restoration to inadvertently minimize the seriousness of someone’s sin rather than magnifying the power of the Lord’s redemption.  In our attempts to ward off condemnation, we can sometimes excuse the sin nature instead of emphasizing the need for repentance and renewal.  Every believer would do well to learn how to unapologetically speak the truth while maintaining a graceful demeanor.  This skill is especially needful when called upon to help others through the process of restoration.

In 1 Cor. 12 Paul explains that the overall health of the body of Christ is dependent on the health of its individual parts, and that “if one part suffers, every part suffers with it.” (vs. 26)It is likely that we are currently aware of someone in need of restoration.  If we are that person, it is our responsibility to ask the Lord for the courage to seek out those who we are to submit ourselves to.  He truly cares about his children and he wants each of us to have a place of usefulness and favor within the body.  Maybe we know someone who has become estranged and now stands in need of an outstretched hand.  It might be that the Lord is asking us to leave the ninety nineto go after the one.  Either way, it is inevitable that in order for a gentle restoration to take place, some sacrifices will have to be made. Though almost always uncomfortable and time consuming by nature, we can rest assured that if we endure with one another through the process, the benefits will far outweigh the cost.

“My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”  (James 5:19-20)

You don’t have to follow the Lord for very long before you realize that he may sometimes lead you into places you really don’t want to go.  In truth, most of our spiritual growth is the result of trial and error and is discovered in the context of difficulty.  All parents will eventually figure out that in order for a child to mature, they must learn to endure and overcome tough situations.  For example, you would not even be able to understand the content of this article had someone not required you to stick with the process we all go through in order to learn how to read.  Put simply, all things of value come at a price and often after having to push forward when the going got rough.  This is especially true in the realm of the spirit.

I remember when I was learning how to drive, my Dad would sometimes offer words of advice as he was riding along beside me in the front passenger seat.  At one point, we found ourselves on the interstate in the middle of a violent thunderstorm.  The rain was coming down so fast that you could barely see past the hood of the car and the water level on the road was rising rapidly.  I noticed that several people had stopped on the side of the road and turned their emergency blinkers on.  Being a new driver, and already being a little unsure of my ability to navigate in these kind of conditions, I decided that pulling off the road and waiting for the storm to pass was probably our best option.  Just as I was about to slow down and veer onto the shoulder, sensing my uneasiness, my Dad very calmly suggested “you know ten miles and ten minutes can make a world of difference in the weather.”  At that point I knew the decision was up to me and the adrenaline really began to flow.  Do I play it safe and follow the lead of the curb huggers?  Or do I press on wide eyed and white knuckled and hope for the best?  In retrospect, I’m so glad I just kept rolling, because sure enough, in no time we drove right out of the storm and into the sunshine with miles and miles of dry pavement in front of us.  You see, my Dad was a traveling salesman when I was a kid, and I knew he had pounded out hundreds of thousands of miles across the highways and byways of the mid-west.  So that little nugget of driving wisdom carried a lot of weight with me.

So it is with the spiritual journey of the Christian.  Time and time again we will find ourselves faced with that proverbial choice when dealing with a difficult situation.  Do we keep moving forward, or do we pull off the road in a panic?   I submit to you today that if we feel like we’re not making much progress in any area of our life or faith, it may be because we’ve simply ceased our forward momentum and declared that we’re in a state of emergency.  In truth, I am appalled by how much time I have wasted as a believer wallowing in my own passivity and indecision.  So many well meaning Christians seem to be paralyzed by the fear of making the wrong decision, or mishearing the Lord.  What if I go the wrong way?  What if that wasn’t really the Lord?  Should I take this opportunity or wait for another?  What if my motives are impure?  What if, what if, what if … and the list perpetually goes on.  Meanwhile, because of our limited vision and the fear of what may lie ahead, we sit there on the roadside letting the storm beat the tar out of us.

When we shrink back in fear thinking we might somehow miss the Lord, we are severely underestimating how BIG he really is.  Trust me, he knows we’re going to make some dumb choices along the way, and his plan for us contains plenty of latitude for that kind of thing.  In fact it is arrogant to think that we’re always going to do the right thing or make the right choice. God doesn’t get mad at us when we’re trying to go the right direction but get off at the wrong exit.  Those off ramps turn into on ramps just as quickly.  The goal is to keep going, keep driving, keep rolling.  In fact, we may actually hydroplane at certain points along the way.  Learn to have fun with it!  Sometimes a little dangerous out of control driving lets you know you’re still alive.  Besides, we can take comfort in knowing that Dad is right there with us and he’s not worried in the least.  As our revelation of the loving sovereignty of our Heavenly Father deepens, we will find that if we just trust his leading and keep moving forward, the weather will surely change and we’ll end up where we’re supposed to be.  In short, don’t be a fraidy chicken, you’re covered.

Isa 43:1-2  “Fear not… when you pass through the waters I will be with you.”

From the time I was a youngster, I’ve been labeled as a “wheeler-dealer”.   I can’t explain it, but I just love to buy and sell stuff.  I was apparently too young to remember this transaction, but my Mom tells the story of me selling the ladder that went to my bunk bed to one of the neighbor kids.  Why he wanted it I couldn’t say, but apparently I felt I didn’t need it anymore, so out the door it went in exchange for a cash settlement.  In the early 70s, you could often find me collecting, trading, and bartering with Wacky Package stickers or beer cans as they were the hot commodity of the day.  Even now, I take great joy when I find something at a flea market, or in a garage sale, or on Ebay that I think I can turn a profit on.  I don’t really know why, It just makes me happy.  In fact, my favorite TV shows are American Pickers, Pawn Stars, the Barrett Jackson auto auctions, and The Antiques Roadshow.  Somehow I’ve slowly gravitated toward these kinds of programs because they are all based on the principle of worth.  Which simply put is, something is worth only what someone is willing to pay for it.  Over time, I have come to realize that this is especially true in the realm of the Spirit.

As a believer, we must understand that all things of great value come at a price.  “But Salvation is free” you might retort.  True, salvation is a free gift to you and I, but it came at the highest price ever paid for anything.  You see, as a believer we can sometimes unknowingly underestimate the value of some of the “good gifts” (Matt 7:11) given to us by our Heavenly Father.  Every parent understands that if we give our children everything they want at no cost to them, eventually they will develop an entitlement mentality.  In other words, spoiled kids think they deserve everything and don’t have to work for anything.  This is why my Dad tried to teach me and my siblings about what he called “the value of a dollar”.  Though he was a very wealthy and generous man, he did not give any of us kids everything we wanted nor was he pressured by when we wanted it.  In turn, we learned that some things we had to wait for, to earn, and eventually to pay for ourselves.  Maybe you don’t want to hear this, but our Heavenly Father sometimes likes to apply this principle as well.

Let’s take for example the kind of experiences that may be required of us in order to gain a greater level of spiritual authority.  At one point, the Apostle Paul’s authority was brought into question by those who were jealous of the impact his ministry was making on the church of Corinth.  His defense was both simple and profound.  In essence, he claimed that he had earned his authority by consistently being willing to work hard and to suffer for the cause of Christ.  “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.”  (2 Cor 11:23)  We must not be deceived about this, there will most certainly be some work and pain involved in the process of attaining genuine spiritual authority.  True, some things will come as a free gift, but rest assured, others will have to be paid for. Much like our earthly parents, the Lord understands that we won’t appreciate anything of value that didn’t cost us something.

A friend of mine shared a story recently about attending the 90th birthday of one of his uncles.  He said he had never really spent much time with the man, but he was confident that he must surely be wise after living all those years.  He knew this might be his only opportunity to glean some of the wisdom gained over the course of a long and eventful life.  So he cautiously approached and asked him to share just one “nugget of truth” that he had discovered.  Much to his dismay, the old man flippantly replied, “just keep breathing.”  At this, my friend walked away quite discouraged and offended at the man’s unwillingness to give up any of the goods.  How dare he!

I’ve seen a similar dynamic take place at different church events.  It’s not uncommon for a well meaning believer to approach someone who has just delivered a powerful message, or demonstrated some form of anointed public ministry.  They will walk right up and ask, “could you please lay your hands on me so I can get what you have?”  Unfortunately, that’s not usually the way it works.  Most of the people who are walking in true spiritual authority or anointed ministry have paid a great price to be doing so.  And if somehow they haven’t yet, believe me, they will.  This principle can also apply to the gaining of what Paul called the fruit of the Spirit.  Don’t believe me?  Is your theology getting tweaked a bit?  Just ask the Lord to “give” you patience and see what happens next.  I can tell you from experience what will happen.  NOTHING WILL HAPPEN…  at least not any time in the foreseen future.  You will have to wait like you’ve never waited before until you flesh screams out in frustration.

Again, please don’t be confused about what I am saying here.  God does give us plenty of great things, spiritual and otherwise, free of charge. He is more gracious and abundantly generous than we will ever comprehend.  As a believer we do share in an inheritance that is completely unmerited.  But don’t be shocked if you have to pay dearly for some of the kingdom stuff you’ve yet to attain.  There is purpose in our difficulty.  The Lord will sometimes even allow our enemies to remain in order “to teach warfare” to those of us who don’t have enough “previous battle experience.”  (Judges 3:1-2) That’s the principle of worth in action.

“He was despised and forsaken and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and pains… therefore I will divide him a portion with the great kings and he shall divide the spoil with the mighty, because he poured out his life unto death.”  (Isa 53:3, 12)

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable:  “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’  “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’  “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.   (Luke 18:10-14)

It’s interesting that the Lord seemed to be in such direct conflict with the Pharisees.  On several occasions strong indictments were verbally thrown back and forth between Jesus and what was arguably the largest and most influential religious- political party of the New Testament era.  In the book of Matthew alone, we have three different accounts of the Lord becoming angry enough to resort to calling them a “brood of vipers.”   Throughout the gospels we find the Pharisees accusing Jesus of being lackadaisical in his adherence to the law and critical of his association with those deemed simply as “sinners.”  Clearly he was no less adamant in his scathing criticisms of their synthetic form of religion and egocentrically driven interpretation of godliness.  The scriptures seem to indicate that Jesus was consistently at odds with those he viewed as being “confident in their own righteousness.”

 

In contrast, we see many examples of the Lord demonstrating what could be interpreted as some kind of reverse favoritism to those deemed socially unacceptable by the “good” people of his culture.  So much so that he was given the label “a friend of sinners.” The cheating tax collectors, the drunkards, the prostitutes… these were the types of characters he was most often found hanging out with.  But why?  Was it really that the Pharisees and other religious leaders were so evil?  These men had given their entire lives to uphold and enforce the very commands laid down by his Father.  The level of moralistic purity required by their sect would put most of us to shame.  Is it possible we’ve given the Pharisees more of a bad rap than they deserve?  Remember, they were just doing what they knew to do.  Accepting Christ as the fulfillment of the law and adopting the new covenant would require a major paradigm shift and a complete 180 in some deeply ingrained thought patterns.

In truth, we all struggle with an inborn desire to be right.  Righteousness, in essence, is about being right.  We want to believe that our right thinking, right words, and right behaviors somehow earn us the ability to judge ourselves and others accurately.  But what’s even more concerning is that, at least on a subconscious level, we’re still prone to think that our relative level of “goodness” is what makes us right before God.  It will always make more sense to us to have clear cut rules and guidelines to follow.  The lifestyle of being Spirit led is not nearly as well defined or consistent as living by the law.  But this is precisely why Paul spent so many verses trying to enlighten the early church on the practice of applying lots of grace to ourselves and others.  This is also why Jesus gave us so many object lessons and practical examples of God’s unconditional love and acceptance during his short public tour.

When accused of associating with the riff raff in attendance at his tax collector buddy’s party, Jesus retorts, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Does this mean Jesus is somehow more interested in “bad” people?  No, it means he just can’t do much with us when we can’t see our need for him.  He was offended by the Pharisees because their rejection of him negated the very purpose of his coming to earth.  Because of their overly generous assessment of their own righteousness they couldn’t see their Messiah when he was standing right in front of them.  We are no less guilty.  If we’re not careful with our judgments, or if we continue to allow the subjectivity of our own opinions to cloud our thinking, we can become just as deceived as the man in the above parable.  “Oh they’re just operating in a religious spirit” we say.   “Thank you God that I’m not like those religious types, Pharisees, hypocrites, tele-evangelists… you can fill in your own soapbox issues and pet peeves here.

My wife and I have always seemed to gravitate toward real people.  More accurately, we like to be in relationship with people who allow us to be real.  The older we get, and the more years we spend trying to serve as leaders in the local church, the more we’ve come to appreciate qualities like genuineness, sincerity, and transparency.   I really enjoy the friendships I have with the crusty bunch of construction workers I spend a lot of my time with during the week.  Most of these guys aren’t the church goin type.  But the low level of pretense and their relatively high level of humility makes them very easy to be with.   For the most part, they’re also very aware of their need for forgiveness and have proven more than willing to talk about a God who accepts them as they are.

Like many of us, the pain we’ve experienced in ministry has often come at the hands of people who needed to be “right” about some issue or situation.  We call this the gunslinger mentality.  When faced with disagreement, we sometimes think it necessary to step out into the street and make sure one of us goes home in a box.  “I’m right, you’re wrong and that’s the end of it.” BANG!  The biblical reality is that we all “see in part” and that apart from the grace of God we’re all up that proverbial creek without a paddle.  Francis Schaffer calls this coming to God with “the empty hands of faith.”  In other words, we have nothing to bring to our salvation or redemption.  The Lord alone is our righteousness.

Put simply, the Lord is drawn to brokenness, contrition, and humility.  Any form of spiritual pride or self righteous comparison propels us into opposition with an omnipotent being.  Think about it, who would ever want to be God’s opponent?  As soon as we began to lean on our own understanding or our goodness we dramatically lessen the positive effects that he wants to release into our lives.  But when we’re vulnerable and in touch with our need for him, he is right there for us, ready to step in and do whatever he can to help.  I for one would rather be real than be right.  It usually takes a lot less effort to be real anyway.

Lord, please forgive us for the harsh judgments we’ve made against others.  Help us get a deeper revelation about the work of the cross and how to apply it.  We receive your grace.  We choose to freely extend it to those who need it the most in our circle of relationships.  Thanks for your patience with us.  We love you.

In the early church, there was a lot of rejection and relational conflict going on as believers began to transition into the newly forming sub-culture we now know as Christianity.  Ethnic and familiar allegiances were taking second place to a new found devotion to the person of Christ and to the local church.  This was especially true of the church in Rome.  At that time, the climate in the Roman community of believers was often marked by discord and strife and therefore proved to be a fertile breeding ground for the delving out of many overly harsh judgments.  Those who not so long ago were considered friends and family, now were viewed as opposing factions.  In the midst of all the mud slinging, Paul challenges the young church to “Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God” (Rom 11:22)

If we’re honest, most of us are much more in touch with God’s sternness (some translations “severity”) than we are his kindness.  Of course there are many reasons why we might have this kind of imbalanced perspective, but none more suspect than the abundance of legalistic doctrine that has been allowed to freely flow from so many of our pulpits.  And to make matters worse, we’ve unknowingly heaped condemnation on ourselves and others for not adhering to all the dogmatic BS we’ve been subjected to.  As a result, many of us have been led to believe that God is somehow fundamentally disappointed in us.  This is just plain sad.  What we believe about the nature of our Heavenly Father will drastically affect the quality of our life.  If we believe that God is usually mad at us, or that our performance is always falling short of what’s expected, then it will be tough for us to enjoy even the best parts of our life.  On the other hand, when we are hanging on to the revelation that God’s unconditional love and acceptance is based solely on our relationship to his Son, then even our difficulties can be seen to have redeeming eternal purpose.

Receiving and relying on the grace of God is both simple and profoundly necessary. Considering the kindness of God begins with a decision to believe that he is gracious and kind by nature, and not the divine drill sargent that we’ve been led to believe.  Of course, like any good father he has to be stern with his children at times.  He will never wink at our disobedience as if it were cute.  But this is precisely why we must “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Heb 12:15)  Can you see the principle here?  If we somehow “miss” God’s grace, then we will become bitter… toward him, others, and even ourselves.  Have you ever felt that God was just waiting for you to fail so that he could smack you back into line?  Trust me on this my friend, maybe your earthly father gave you that impression, or maybe some other authority figure in your life operated that way, but that is not the way God is!  Malice is just not a part of his make-up.

When we struggle with bitterness, it is because we need a deeper revelation of God’s love for us.  If we receive his grace, then we have it to give to ourselves and others.  If we often feel like he’s angry at us, or disappointed in us, then we’ll just as readily pass that negative emotion on to those around us.  If we allow a “bitter root to grow up” within us, it will invariably “cause trouble” for usand in turn “defile many.” Again, we’re only able to give what we’ve already received.  But that blade cuts both ways.  When we begin to truly rely on the kindness and grace of the Lord, then we’ll have an abundance of it to give away.

Let’s face it, our flesh is always going to be prone to weakness.  “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.” (Ro 7:18)  But keep in mind that all that human frailty is there by design.  If you’re spending much time wrestling with feelings of anger, or you know someone who can’t seem to get over their bitterness, it’s time to apply some grace.  Receive the Father’s forgiveness and then release that forgiveness in every possible direction.  Whether we’re feeling the shame of  someone else’s unrighteous judgment, or we’re the one passing it out, the application of this truth is the same.  “See to it that no one misses the grace of God.” Why?  Because we all need it desperately.  No exceptions. “Mercy triumphs over judgment!” (Jas 2:13)

Lord, you know we need help with this one.  Please grant us a deeper revelation of how much you love us.  Forgive us for our harsh judgments toward ourselves and others.  Forgive us for believing that you’re mad and disappointed with us.  You are a loving Heavenly Father and want nothing more than to bless us and to grant us favor in all that we do.  You are good and kind and so faithful to us.  Thank you for being such a great Dad.  We love you.

I know for some it might be hard to believe that the Lord could speak through a classic rock song, but it happens to me all the time.  In fact, I believe that there was a very powerful anointing that rested on many of the bands from the 60s and 70s.  Even though most of the artists probably had no idea that the Lord was using them to speak truth, He often did just that with or without their intent or acknowledgment.  Recently, while driving home after a long day of work, I decided to pick up my cell phone and call my friend about a business start up we were working on together.  Knowing that we had both come from a very similar performance oriented background, we were encouraging one another with the truth that many times it’s not about us having to work harder or to strive to make something happen.  Instead, the Lord was teaching us that our forward progress is usually more about being willing to trust in his goodness and sovereignty so that we can enter into His rest.  The Lord was trying to help us get the revelation that when our soul is at rest, and the peace of Christ is ruling in our heart, then we can just sit back and enjoy the ride.  As soon as I hung up the phone, I hit the radio button and the song “Free Ride” by Edgar Winter started up as if perfectly cued. Being the closet rock and roll devote that I am, I cranked it up as loud as it would go.  A very powerful encounter with the Lord ensued.

In the formative stages of my spiritual development, I was internally driven by the belief that, “If it’s gonna be, than it’s up to me.”  Oh sure I could quote any number of scriptures that were contrary to that mindset, but when it came down to how I was actually living… I was just as self motivated and clueless about the Lord’s leadings as I was before I became a believer.  Although lordship starts with making a decision, that is most certainly not where it stops.  In fact, learning how to truly depend on the Lord may involve a long and humiliating process.  At least it has for me, and I’m fairly confident that I’m not the only one who’s had a little trouble practicing this principle.  Most of us, and this is especially true of we American Christians, have been trained from a very early age to be self reliant and self oriented in thought and lifestyle.  Think about it, the very formation of our country was due largely to our unwillingness to submit ourselves to a ruler.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a gun toting republican who thoroughly enjoys his freedoms.  But learning how to be more lead and less driven has not been easy for me.  I don’t know how many times over the course of my Christian journey, my soul has exclaimed, “Stand aside God and watch how much I can DO for you.

It’s taken many years to even begin to comprehend how arrogant that thought pattern must be to the Lord.   Whether we admit it or not, we often live as if our Heavenly Father’s interest in us and/or his approval of us is somehow affected by something we might do or not do “for” Him.  Granted, we all have things we’re called, gifted, and anointed to do.  But believe it or not, he really doesn’t need us to do anything.  “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” (Prov 19:21) Regardless of our theology, it is shamefully egocentric to deny the fact that His plans and purposes will prevail with or without our human efforts.  This revelation is doubly needful for those of us who’ve committed ourselves to leading and serving in the church.  As one who was once the textbook example of a Messiah Complex, I can tell you from experience that much of our need to “serve” may be improperly motivated.  Remember, “the poor you will always have with you”.   In other words, there’s always more that needs to be done.  Our job is to do only what the Lord himself asks us to do.  Anything beyond that is a yoke we need not wear.  Obedience truly is better than sacrifice, that hasn’t changed.  In fact, I’ve come to believe that one of God’s primary intentions for us is that we simply learn how to relax and enjoy the life He’s given us.

If you’re feeling the burden of a heavy yoke, maybe it’s time to inquire of the Lord about what you’re carrying that’s not really your responsibility.  If you’re an intercessor, maybe you need to stop watching the news for a while.  I’m pretty sure the oil spill in the gulf and that situation in the middle-east that you’re so concerned about will get solved without you losing any sleep over it.  No offense, but sometimes we overestimate the significance of the role we play in the grand scheme of things.  Go for a walk, enjoy a nap, eat a cheeseburger without feeling guilty for the love of God!  It’s gonna be OK.  He’ll keep the universe from imploding on itself.  Our job is to cease from our striving and enter into his rest.  The Lord God Jehovah is on the throne.  He loves us and He’s got this whole thing figured out and under control.  We need only to listen and obey, listen and obey, listen and obey.  Let Him deal with the rest.  Come on and take a free ride.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  (Matt 11:28-30)

The mountain is high   The valley is low
and you’re confused on which way to go
so I’ve come here to give you a hand
and lead you into the promised land so…

come on and take a free ride
come on and sit here by my side
come on and take a free ride

all over the country I’ve seen it the same
nobody’s winning at this kind of game
we’ve got to do better it’s time to begin
you know all the answers must come from within so…
come on and take a free ride
come on and sit here by my side
come on and take a free ride.

The older I get, the more I appreciate seclusion and solitude.  So much so that I really don’t want to live anywhere near a big city anymore if I can help it.  Even subdivisions make me feel like I have to fight to take in a deep breath.  What happened to me?  I used to love being right in the middle of things.  For years we lived and worked in Chicago and all the hustle and bustle never seemed to phase me.  In fact, at that time I felt like the more people and activity I could be around the better.  For heaven’s sake, I was the consummate extravert for most of my life.  How is it that I now live out in the country on the edge of a thousand acres of woods at the end of a quarter mile gravel driveway and absolutely love it?  The short answer to that question is this; I’ve learned the value of guarding my eye gates and ear gates.

I find it interesting that there are over 300 references to gates in Scripture.  In biblical times, the safety and security of any city of size was determined by the height and thickness of its walls and the strength of its gates.  To hold or take a city it was said that you must “possess the gates.”  In Judges 16:3 Samson mocked the might of the Philistines by tearing the main gate of their city off its hinges and carrying it away on his back.  Gates were the primary access point for either good or evil to enter, so making sure that they were well guarded was accepted by all as a top priority.  At one point, Nehemiah commissioned the Levites to guard the gates of Jerusalem.  But this time the concern was not their foreign enemies, but rather the hoard of godless merchants who were trying to get the Israelites to buy goods from them on the Sabbath.

When evening shadows fell on the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I ordered the doors to be shut and not opened until the Sabbath was over. I stationed some of my own men at the gates so that no load could be brought in on the Sabbath day. Once or twice the merchants and sellers of all kinds of goods spent the night outside Jerusalem. But I warned them and said, “Why do you spend the night by the wall? If you do this again, I will lay hands on you.” From that time on they no longer came on the Sabbath.  Then I commanded the Levites to purify themselves and go and guard the gates in order to keep the Sabbath day holy. (Neh 13:19-22)

 

You can put a religious white wash on this account if you want to, but basically “I will lay hands on you” meant, “If you losers come back and try this again, I will personally come down there and kick your ass!”  Apparently they took Nehemiah seriously because it says, “From that time on they no longer came on the Sabbath.”

In much the same way, if we don’t get a little aggressive about guarding our eye gates, ear gates, the gates of our mind,  heart, and homes, we can lose our place of rest (Sabbath) and quickly become corrupted by the offerings of our increasingly godless environment.

 

Our eyes and ears are the primary gates to our inner man.  But due to our constant over-exposure to evil, we have become numb and thus largely unaware of the assault that is raging against our ability to maintain a soul at rest.  Because of the rapid advancement of our technology, and the pervasiveness of our media consuming devices, we have been subjected to witnessing far more evil and vile human behavior than we were created to handle.  Now, only the most shocking and repulsive of images causes us to turn away in disgust.  Over time, we have developed an unhealthy tolerance of what used to make us cringe.

Guarding the gates is about being intentionally mindful of what we allow ourselves to see, and hear.  Jesus said, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (Mat 6:22-23) If we allow a free flowing stream of worldliness into our eye gate, then we must prepare ourselves for the inevitable.  We will become like that which we behold.  But this does not have to be our destiny.  Like Nehemiah, we can choose to rise above our passivity and go on the offensive.

Guarding our eye gates simply means watching what we watch.  Even a 30 second commercial can defile our mind and cause our thoughts to be misdirected.  I believe it was Bill Gothard who said that “TV is the toleration of great evil in order to attain a little good.”  At the very least, we can choose to screen that which streams into our homes.  God help those of us who are parents to get serious about monitoring our kid’s access to the internet.

Being aware of what we allow in our ear gate is an equally needful discipline.  One crucial strategy is to learn how to be comfortable with silence.  More often than not, the Lord likes to use his still small voice.  Hearing from the Lord will bring peace and rest to our souls quicker than anything else.  If our surroundings are constantly  filled with sounds (radio, noisy neighbors, a droning chorus of leaf blowers and lawn mowers) than our environmentally in-bread A.D.D. will often squash any chance of finding genuine rest for our soul.  We are thoroughly over-stimulated and thus largely unfulfilled.  Just getting somewhere truly quiet on a regular basis can radically alter the level at which we enjoy our lives.  Again, I’ve learned to love things like deer hunting and taking a slow walk through the woods for this very reason.   Inner peace truly is attainable, but it may require us to sacrifice some of the lifestyle choices we’ve grown accustomed to.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:7)

Lastly, we must remember that it is a short trip from our mouth to our ears.  By watching what comes out of our mouth, we can guard our heart.  Whatever we say will, in turn, reinforce what we’re already thinking, be it good or bad.  If we’re prone to speak negatively about ourselves, our situation, or others, then it won’t be long before we reap what our mouth has sown.  I used to laugh at the naivety of the “positive confession” camp until I realized that, for the most part, they we’re living better than I was.  They were happier, healthier, wealthier… say what you will, the principle works!  There is unfathomable power in the spoken word to build up or tear down.  Like the head of a hammer, we choose which side to use.  Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. (Prov 4:23)

Our eye gate, ear gate, and mouth gate are the key access points to our minds and hearts.  Our enemy understands this fact and therefore has mounted a relentless assault against them.  We must decide to transcend our culture’s norms and learn to live above their corrupting influence.  Our homes should be a place of rest and peace.  Our very bodies are God’s dwelling place, and He never leaves the house.  It is our responsibility to become vigilant in guarding the gates for ourselves and our families.  Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is … to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27)

Several years ago, a friend of mine shared an impression he had received about the spiritual climate of the region in which we were living at the time.  In prayer, he saw a stereotypical church building with a huge three-legged stool sitting on top of it.  On top of the stool sat a bride and groom figurine like the kind that would normally be seen on a wedding cake.  On the legs of the stool there was writing, each leg bearing a different word.  On the first leg the word “competition” was written, on the next “recognition” and on the third “suspicion”.   As he continued praying, the Lord revealed that the figurine represented the union of Jezebel and the religious spirit, and that they were the antithesis of Christ and his bride the Church.  Their position on top of the stool was indication that they had been given much authority in the local church in our area.  The stool represented spiritual authority, and the legs were that authority’s support structure.   The Lord then revealed that if only one of these legs were to be broken, the whole thing would easily topple over.  I believe these three attitudes of the heart: competition, recognition, and suspicion expose some of the enemy’s most common tactics for keeping Christians from working together.  More importantly, they also provide a glimpse into the Lord’s plan for unifying his body and restoring life and vitality to the local church.

Competition: If at any point we feel the need to compete with another believer or ministry, we need to consider where that desire might be coming from. Though I am convinced there is actually a kind of healthy competition that can take place between believers as we “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Heb 10:24) there is also an ungodly form of competition that is most often motivated by our need for validation.   Let’s face it.  We all want to be great and to be a part of something great.  What we may not realize is that this need for greatness is a God given desire.  The scriptures make it clear that every believer was created to take and to hold a place of great heavenly authority.  However, we can often loose sight of this perspective in the midst of our efforts to find our place in the earthly pecking order.  Most believers would acknowledge that our value is not determined by our level of outward “success” or by how we are viewed by others.  And yet, we often have an internal struggle erupt when another brother or sister is openly blessed by the Lord in some significant way.  Why do we sometimes grit our teeth when He makes an obvious display of His favor on a fellow believer or ministry?   In 1 Cor. 12, Paul explains that “if one part is honored” than “every other part should rejoice with it.” We all know that it can be quite difficult to muster up the appropriate response when faced with that situation.   Instead of being genuinely thankful for another’s good fortune or blessing, our first response may be to feel jilted or “gypped” by God.

There are many biblical examples of this form of jealousy.  Cain and Able, Joseph and his brothers, certainly Jesus and the Pharisees, and even the ministry of the Apostle Paul suffered from this kind of ungodly competition.  In Acts 13 we are told that when Paul was teaching in the Synagogue he began to draw large crowds of people.  And “when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying.”  (vs. 45) If we ever find ourselves wanting to discredit or disparage another ministry or a minister that seems to be having more success than we are, we need to quickly reign in our tongue and ask the Lord to enlighten our thinking.  Even if a given ministry or leader may at times appear to us to be improperly motivated, we need to be mindful of our thoughts, and intentionally gracious with our comments.  Being overly critical of another believer or their ministry is a sure sign of something amiss within us.  And rest assured, if our judgments are truly unrighteous and without repentance, they will inevitably lead to our own humiliation.

In contrast, if we will simply learn to “rejoice with” our brother when he is blessed, this will encourage the Lord to release his favor and blessing to us.  Our Father really does want to pour out all kinds of good things on his children, but he will never reward unbridled sibling rivalry.  When my kids are in strife with each other, I am often compelled to respond quickly with some kind of disciplinary action.  But when they are seemingly intent on tearing one another to pieces, I will let them go at it for a while without my intervention.  The result is remarkably consistent.  In no time, they become truly miserable and then they come crying to me for help.  My response is always the same.  “I don’t want to hear about what your brother did, I’ll deal with him next.  What did you do wrong?”  I am convinced that this is also the Lord’s approach to resolution when we find ourselves in the midst of relational conflict.  In short, the countermeasure for competition is cooperation.

Recognition: If you have ever had the opportunity to attend a meeting where leaders from several different churches or ministries had come together, you might have discovered that these get-togethers seem to have a tendency to be either wonderful or horrible.  There is nothing sweeter than enjoying the heart-felt relationships shared by like minded believers, and nothing more excruciating than having to endure a room filled with posturing pastors or church leaders.  Again, this need for recognition is actually a part of our God-given makeup and is there by design.  The Father wants us not only to know Him, but also to be aware that we are known by Him.  But when we are not in touch with the Lord’s acknowledgment of us, we will invariably resort to drawing attention to ourselves or something we have done in the hopes of getting it from each other.  Jesus devoted a significant portion of the sermon on the mount to this very issue.

“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.  “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matt 6:1-4)

At one point, I was asked if I would be willing to help clean up our church building after one of our events.  I agreed to volunteer and showed up the next morning ready to work.  Within minutes, I found myself on my hands and knees cleaning toilets and urinals.  Though I immediately recognized that the Lord was closely watching my internal response to this proverbial test, there was still a part of me that really wanted someone to notice my willingness to tackle this particularly humbling assignment.  Thankfully, no one really paid much attention to what I was doing or made any comments about how great I was for lowering myself to such a task.  And rightly so.  Throughout the Gospels, we repeatedly find Jesus trying to enlighten his disciples to the principle of unnoticed obedience.  In Mark 9 he asks them this question, “What were you arguing about on the road?”Instead of responding, “they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.  Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”This statement is truly profound and applies to so many different aspects of our faith.  Clearly the Lord is not as impressed by our “greatness” as we tend to think he is.  But the scriptures seem to indicate that there is actually huge potential for long term honor and recognition in a lifestyle of unassuming self sacrifice.   Therefore, the countermeasure for recognition is servanthood.

Suspicion: Are we prone to give other believers the benefit of the doubt, or do we tend to hold them at arms length until they have somehow proven themselves to us?   Even though we understand that appearances and first impressions are not always reliable, I think we often want to “size up” one another a little prematurely.  If we have been a part of a local church for any length of time, then we have undoubtedly had our trust betrayed by a brother or sister in the Lord at some point.  If we have not yet been thoroughly disappointed or disillusioned by the behavior of another Christian, then we should prepare ourselves for the inevitable.  We should also recognize that to be disillusioned is to have an illusion removed from us.  Many of us still seem to be living under the assumption that no one in the church should be allowed to hurt us.  We should keep in mind that the Lord not only allows us to be wounded by others, but that his deepest desire is for us to die.  Through the example of his crucifixion, Jesus demonstrated that there are times when we must choose to make ourselves dangerously vulnerable, even to those who have the capacity to inflict great harm upon us.

Of course, this is not to say that we should haphazardly throw ourselves at the mercy of anyone with a fish emblem affixed to the bumper of their van.  Proverbs 4:23 says we should “guard our heart” because it is “the wellspring of life.” We should always be mindful of our alliances and discerning of those whom we embrace.  But our pre-programmed misgivings toward other Christians can often end up being entirely unwarranted.   Our enemy is no fool.  He is very aware of the power that is released when dissimilar believers are unified in their goals and purpose.  In 1 Tim 6:4, Paul warns his young disciple about those who have “an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, and evil suspicions.” Have you ever encountered someone who seems to have an unhealthy interest in controversies?  Did they quarrel about words and talk maliciously about others?  Unfortunately, we have all probably all been sucked into these kinds of evil suspicionsat one time or another.  But even worse, if we make it our habit to pre-judge or talk negatively about other believers, than we should expect to reap what we have sown.  Instead, we should learn to ask the Lord to show us those divine relational hook-ups that we might normally overlook because of our own personal biases or insecurities.  We might even be pleasantly surprised by the friendships that would develop as a result.  The countermeasure for suspicion is trust.

It is no secret that the majority of people in this country are no longer attending church.  Even many believers have become disenchanted by the notion of committing themselves to a local congregation in any significant way. I believe the Lord is deeply grieved by this trend.  Though some have vowed to remain estranged, many others are sitting right beside us on Sunday morning wanting desperately to somehow be more connected.  Granted, we probably will not have the same level of affinity or concern for everyone who feels this way.  Some we may not want to be connected to at all, but that is the nature of the body.  Still, we cannot deny that we really do need each other.  So, “as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, but especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”  (Gal 6:10)

“The Three Legged Stool” is used by permission of Don French and Kingdom SEAL Ministries.

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