Wilderness Worries

We spend a lot of time worrying and complaining about things we can’t control. When Israel was in the wilderness, they spent a lot of time worrying and complaining to Moses and Aaron. You could say they gave their pastors an earful. And as they looked back upon their years of Egyptian slavery, not only do they not remember how hard it was- they remember it fondly. But when God delivered them from Pharaoh, they were freed from every kind of slavery- religious slavery, political slavery and economic slavery.

But the people could remember was all the food they used to get: figs and pomegranates, and grain- and they even had grapevines, so they could go to happy hour on Fridays.

They’ve got a short memory when it comes to what they had to do to get all that. If we don’t produce at our jobs today, we get fired- not fun. When they didn’t produce- it meant death, or not eating, or being beat and whipped. But now that they’d been freed, even though they live in the desert- they’ve should have been able to trust God’s grace. And that’s been hard to swallow.

It’s hard to swallow for us, too.  If you’re a Christian, you’re no longer a slave. Your job may feed you and your family- but its no longer your master. You’re bank balance may provide security- but not eternal security. And the McMansion you always wanted is no longer your palace, now its just a roof over your head. Or your political party is in or out of power- but now it neither makes you giddy nor crushes you.  None of that is who you are any longer. The pressure of that kind of slavery is off.

It’s no longer your working or worrying to obtain any of it that sustains you. Jesus accepts you whether your a CEO or unemployed; swanky suburb or house falling down around you (or no house); whether your guy or girl won or not. You shouldn’t be basing your joy or worth on anything other that God’s grace.

Word vs. Works

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Now, you’ll get no argument from me that churches are primarily Word Ministry based. Practically, para-church organizations are better equipped to serve communities.  But every church should have a couple of gateway programs that do community outreach as part of their discipleship program.

A couple of years ago, the church I attend started a community service program called Send Seventy, modeled after Jesus sending the disciples out in pairs.  Send Seventy was designed to get people out into their neighborhoods to serve.  It platformed out of our Life Group ministry- so that people could go together and support one another as they tried something new.  Hopefully, three things would happen:

  1. Together, people could overcome their trepidation to try something new.
  2. Once they tried it, service would become something they wanted to do, rather than a burden or just another thing on the to-do list. (Enter sanctifying Holy Spirit:)
  3. They’d be motivated to find a place that fit them and continue serving.

Gateway programs like this are important in combatting community service lethargy. Many people, myself included, shy away from service because its new and intimidating not to know anyone or what to do- we’re uncomfortable.  A gateway service program called Salt and Light is run by our church at a local homeless shelter ministry.  It’s led and supported by a regular and dedicated leadership team from the church, but with plenty of room for people to get out of their pews and try it out.

Church community service programs should be designed to introduce people to service so that they can find their own service home and routines in their own contexts, neighborhoods and comfort zones.

Did Send Seventy work?  Well, it worked for me.  I’ve shared my struggles with serving and new routines and busy-ness. But after a few tries (and few bad fits), I found a place in my neighborhood where I feel comfortable, know the people and can serve regularly.

The Death of Prayer

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The Untimely Death of a Prayer Life

The death of a prayer life starts long before we recognize it. We’re still praying.  Spending our few minutes a day, maintaining our routine.  But its form over substance.  There is a coldness to it, a boredom, a monotony, rather than the Spirit filled time we used to enjoy.

The 19th Century preacher Octavius Winslow has some questions you can use to diagnose your prayer life:

Real prayer is the breathing of God’s own Spirit in the heart; have you this? It is communion and fellowship with God; know you what this is? It is brokenness, contrition, confession, and that often springing from an overwhelming sense of his goodness and his love shed abroad in the heart; is this your experience?

There’s a progression to declining prayer:

  1. our private prayer time goes
  2. then our “walking around” prayers- the spontaneous prayers we offer God
  3. next is family prayer (say goodbye to family study and praying at meals)
  4. and finally social prayer- with other Christians

What you exchange for prayer: The absence of prayer does not leave a vacuum. Something else fills it.  Humility, dependance on God and desperation to share the gospel gets exchanged for self-reliance, judgmental-ness, and a lack of interest in increasing the Kingdom of God.

Winslow chronicles the final result: 

Satan, the subtle and sleepless foe of the soul, is prepared with a thousand enticements to smooth the downward path; the world appears with some new attraction; sin tastes less bitter, and appears less “exceeding sinful”; objects of sense become familiar, are looked at, admired, then embraced: and now the soul, but for preserving and restraining grace, has taken a farewell forever of God.

Off the Hook?

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Should I serve inside the church or should I serve outside the church?  Yes…

This is how as an interrogator, I learned the hard way not to ask compound questions.  Did you rob the bank on Monday or did you rob the bank on Tuesday?  Yes.  So which is it?

  • If you serve inside the church walls… does that mean you are off the hook outside the walls?

Christians are called to both serve both one another AND the needy, i.e. “the widow, the orphan and the foreigner among you.”  When we serve one another inside the walls we are serving by extension the ministry of God’s Word.  When we serve outside the walls we are serving the ministry of God’s Work.  Both Word and Works are necessary.

There is the danger of thinking that if we usher or work in children’s ministry, that we are absolved of working in the community.  As a pastor, spending all my free time inside the walls, I even tried to convince myself that I was off the hook.  Nice try.

We only hurt ourselves when we forgo community work because God ordains that kind of service as one of the ways that He changes our heart (i.e. sanctifies us). In short, I hate going, but once I’m there I feel like it was great idea (that’s simple heart change).  And while he’s changing our heart, other hearts are changing as we model (and yes even speak about) the gospel.

We are called to be God’s agents in world repair- the Jewish term is Tikkun Olam.  I especially love Isaiah for his Two Cities Theme: the city of man vs. the city of God- it’s currently a poor crime ridden ghetto filled with people who abuse each other.  But in the end we see its transformation into a Holy City.  Even though its not here yet, we are to be part of that transforming process- now.

Resting at Work

The deep peace of knowing we’ve been accepted by Christ should be changing the way we work and rest… into rest at work.  There is more to rest than our past and our future.  And there is also more to rest than a day off or a vacation.

  • Think about your past.  When you accept Christ as Savior- there is rest in knowing you’ve been forgiven for all your sins.
  • Think of your future.  Because there is also the hope of the future rest we will have in heaven.

But there is also a rest today.  The author of Hebrews writes: “Now we who have believed enter that rest…” Now.  So not only do we get a physical day or two off once in a while., but as we go about our daily work, whether at our jobs or as parents, or whatever else it is that you do, you can not only occasionally rest FROM it, you can rest IN it, too.  If your truly resting in your unconditional acceptance by the God of the universe, your work should look a lot different than the harried, blowing up at co-workers, late again for the meeting, yelling at the kids, thorns and thistles that everyone around you is experiencing as work. Here’s how:

  • Because you rest in Christ, you’re going to work towards excellence, but you’re not going to worry about the outcome, because good or bad, that’s up to God.  You are not accepted based on outcomes.
  • Because you rest in Christ, your work doesn’t define you, Christ and his acceptance of you is what defines you.
  • Because you rest in Christ, you don’t overwork- because you’re not approved by taking on more than you can handle.  And you’re not lazy- because you trust God will provide the rest you need.

So now Christians have a choice: we can do our work the old way or the new way. We can strive and contend and struggle or we can “rest at work.”

Striking Christ

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Water of Contention- Numbers 20

NoVA feels like one of the most workaholic cultures in the world. As the 80s band Loverboy sang: we’re all working for the weekend. We strive and contend with God to get him to give us what we want, when we want it. What’s the one thing you have to have or do- that, like water, is your most basic and core need? That you have to stay on top of? And when things don’t stay on schedule, causes us to strive and contend- and there is no rest until you get it. So how do we get to a place of rest where we can trust in God for our most basic needs? How can God quench our thirst? Not just physically, but spiritually.

  • Check out this talk on Numbers 20 and how a quarreling, contentious and thirsty Israel tries to hold God’s feet to the fire and how when we do that we’re actually laying our rod across Christ’s back:

Two Places Not to Serve

I hate serving.  I love serving. You could say I have a love/hate relationship with serving.  I hate getting started because its inconvenient.  It takes me out of my game.  I don’t know anybody there.  I don’t know what to do or how to do it.  So my default setting is usually: “don’t I do enough already?”  Then, after the guilt sets in, the evil twin of, “I don’t do enough.”

These are the two places from which Christians should never serve.  Because frankly, you could never “do enough” or not “do enough.”  Christ already did everything.  The first is born of pride the second guilt.  If we’re “doing enough,” we’re taking credit for doing something that we think should cause God to love us more.  And when we’re not “doing enough” we think God loves us less.  Both attitudes are opposite sides of the sanctification by works coin.  God won’t love you more for doing more and he won’t love you less for dong less. But precisely because he loves us unconditionally like that- we should love him back- in obedience.

So rather than looking at service opportunities from the “works” binary, simply try to obey… for obedience sake.  Simple obedience is the gateway drug to sanctification.  Now surely there will be valid times when you can’t or shouldn’t.  But simple obedience gets us over the reluctance hump.  Once you try it, figure it out, meet the people, serving becomes something you want to do rather than have to do.  That’s a heart being sanctified.