Tuesday, February 18, 2014

What does it mean to be saved through faith?

We've got a phrase, it's actually a verse from the Bible which we love to quote, but I don't think I've really understood it before.
If you can't paraphrase something, you probably don't understand it.
"For by grace you have been saved through faith." (Eph 2:8)
So try this one. How would you restate this very simple verse?

You've basically got two nouns and a verb linked by prepositions: grace, faith, and saved.

What does grace mean? Some have called it "favor," or perhaps we could say "kindness."

So far we have: "by favor/kindness you have been saved through faith."

What does saved mean? Well, a good approximation would be "deliver." We're delivered from something, but we'll think about that something in a moment.

We now have: "by kindness you have been delivered through faith."

Finally we ask, what does faith mean? This is perhaps simpler and easier than any of the others for faith in its most natural sense means "belief."

So if we substitute just these simple synonyms we have: "by kindness you have been delivered through belief."

By itself this probably makes little sense, but if we then imbue this phrase with all of biblical history that Paul is thinking of when he says this phrase it starts to sound really scandalous.

For by (out of) kindness you have been delivered (from the punishment due for your sins) through believing (that God can and will deliver you).

In other words, you are saved from the guilt of your sins simply because God loves to forgive sins so much that He'll do it for anyone who believes He can.

Is that not crazy or what?

"Come, let us reason together, says the LORD:
though your sins be like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool." (Is 1:18)

God says to the world: "I'll make a deal with you. If you believe that I can keep you from getting punished, I'll do it. That's all I ask. That you believe I can do it. (For by grace you have been saved through faith.)"

As is obvious, this leaves no room for our boasting in our selves. Who gets the credit when God forgave you because you believed that He could? Oh, wow, good for you for believing God could do what He said He could do.
God said He can forgive sins and you said, okay, I believe it, and so He did it. Remind me where the credit goes?

This is Paul's heart when he wrote these words many years ago, because He knew the God who wants to make a deal with mankind because He loves mercy so much.

Somehow I don't remember fully appreciating the scandalous simplicity of salvation before. Hallelujah for a God who saves us even when we don't understand how amazing His offer really is!!
With grace like this there's no reason to stop us from telling everyone we come in contact with the amazing news that God saves anyone who believes He can!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Expectations Fulfilled, Joy Experienced

Back in May as I was in prayerful preparation for my summer at the Boardwalk Chapel I wrote down some expectations I had about what my summer might be like, you can read them here.

I expected God to take me out of my comfort zone.
He did that. The first couple weeks of going out on the Boardwalk to meet complete strangers and see if they were willing to talk about God were filled with agonizing anticipation. However, after a couple of really good conversations God gave me, I lost a lot of that fear. I still struggle with having the discipline to initiate, to be ready to spend myself (being an introvert it costs me energy to initiate conversation with strangers), but I have largely lost my fear of initiation. I know that there are pretty much two options, either we'll have a fruitful conversation or I'll get turned down. It's not up to me to force people to talk to me, it's up to God to open up hearts. To learn that has been freeing.

I expected to learn more about who God is to unbelievers.
I did. I thought I was almost tired of hearing the gospel before going to New Jersey, and surely hearing it over and over wouldn't help things. However, by presenting it time after time in whatever way seemed it might connect best, I actually developed a new and deeper love for the core of our faith. Anyone who thinks the gospel is simple hasn't really talked to others about it much. Trying to get the central message of Christianity out in skit, song, preaching, and one-on-one conversations opened up the complexity of the gospel to me in a way I had not known before. Glorious!

I expected to come away more confident in sharing my faith with others.
Only time will tell for this one, whether what became a lifestyle for the summer in New Jersey will actually become a lifestyle once I'm back home, or whether it will remain compartmentalized as something I do when I'm in "ministry mode" not an everyday habit. Will I continue to direct conversations towards walking with the Lord in my everyday life? I hope so; not to the point of not being able to talk about anything else, but to make it something that I'm always thinking about and not being ashamed to talk about it. It is amazing how often I excuse being ashamed about sharing the gospel as an "inappropriate time," etc. I try to convince myself that I'm not really ashamed of the gospel in those situations, but if I'm honest I know that I really am. I'm ashamed of being thought of as pretentious, hypocritical, pharisaical, or some other self-righteous goody-goody. Time will reveal how much of that fear and shame have been removed in my everyday life.

I expected to become more aware of my shortcomings and as a result feel more dependent on God.
Well, this did not happen as expected. I did feel very dependent on God, especially when doing evangelism, but overall I was affirmed and built up. I found myself humbled, not by critique, but by the praise and affirmation I received. Somehow I felt even more dependent on God despite the praise I was getting. He really brought home to me the verse, "are we seeking to please man or God?" I found to my delight that he was the center of my affections for when I received praise from the people around me it only mattered to the extent that it was words of commendation from my Lord. I found myself more than ever dependent on his love and mercy and completely delighted to know that he was pleased with me.

I hoped to discover the joy of evangelism.
Boy did I ever. Perhaps not more than when I learned to evangelize in Uganda in 2010. However, I learned the joy of bringing the gospel to bear to people of all different walks of life. I learned that I really did love people and care very deeply for them, more and more when I am deeply connected to my Savior. I found myself channeling his love time and time again as I would go from just letting hurting people talk their hearts out to me, to arguing with agnostics about the irrationality of evolution and disbelief in God. As I hoped, I believe God has made me much more useful in his service. I believe he's done some pipe cleaning this summer on a rather dirty pipe named Isaiah and is ready to channel some more of his love, wisdom, and grace through me to others in the future.

I was utterly astounded at the words of encouragement I heard from the lips of strangers and friends alike this summer of how much of a help I was in pointing them to my Beloved. Of course that is my desire, and so to hear that I was able to point away from myself and to my God was thrilling. I don't want people to look at me as someone who is zealous for God, I just want to love God and have others love him too. I want to see people healed and built up, but I can't do it myself—I'm not God, so I do my best to keep their eyes on the only one who can. Because he really can. He is able to do more than we ask or think. He is the only one who has all the power. Don't put your trust in princes or for help on man depend; and it also works the other way, Princes, don't think that you can be trusted in, you're not God. I desire to bring healing and hope to broken lives, but I can't personally do that, so I do my best to put people in touch with the one who can.
It is always encouraging to me to see how much it makes me happy to see others turning their focus away from me and towards Christ. When I see the honest delight in my heart it brings tears to my eyes, because it's none of my doing. It is all him, and it's so beautiful! This has been a beautiful summer because I've seen my Savior in the lives of my brothers and sisters that I worked with and I've seen many be directed away from me and towards Christ. He is so worthy, because he is so able. I don't know if I've ever been able to say so honestly and so joyfully, "He must increase and I must decrease." This summer I think I tasted in a fuller way than ever before the heart of John the Baptist who wanted nothing more than for the disciples to leave him for Jesus.

Do not cling to me my brothers and sisters, I only hope to show you how to find the one who can give real comfort, peace, joy, deliverance, and protection.
To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

When I run I can feel His pleasure…

Here at the end of all things. Well, not all things, just Boardwalk Chapel things.

I expected to come and be stretched and grow in my own evangelism and love of the LORD. And that has happened.

What I did not expect is to be encouraged. When I say encouraged I actually mean affirmed in a deeper way than I ever imagined. I have been surrounded by amazing people and felt quite inadequate, and yet they seem to find admirable qualities in me.

Is this what we call grace? Words fail me.

"Who can faint while such a river, ever flows their thirst t'assuage?"

I expected to be blessed and grown, but I did not expect the kind of affirmation and admiration I experienced from such saints as I have served with at this ministry.
I expected critique—particularly the constructive kind—and appreciated it, eventually.
However, I had no idea of the kind of encouragement and affirmation my LORD had in store for me this summer.
"No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him." (1 Cor 2:9)

I thought I came to serve, and I expected to be blessed in the serving, but I had no idea how richly I would be served.
At the beginning of this year I was humbled by criticism by loving friends, but this summer I've been humbled by the encouragement, admiration, and affirmation I've received.

It's easy to let it go to my head and see myself as great in the eyes of others.
However, when I catch a glimpse of my Savior behind each kind word I am reminded of my real reason for living.
He's making me more like himself and the kind words given are from him. I can feel his pleasure and it is not mercenary because that is my whole reason for living.
If I live for him than there is no greater joy than knowing he is pleased with me. I do not ignore the beautiful people he uses to speak his words of comfort to me, but when I see his face behind each kind word and precious smile there is less room for my own pride. The joy of knowing I have pleased the one I am living for pushes out all lesser motivations. My Lord, pleased with me?

There is humbling wonderment blended with purest joy in knowing we are actually pleasing to the one who has loved us so much. We can know that by his word, the testimony of his spirit within us, and by the encouragement of the saints. Who am I to have brought delight to his heart? Who am I to be died for? Who am I to be loved so?
I receive worth because of who I belong to. My greatest comfort and joy is knowing that I am not my own, but that I belong to another, and additionally that he delights in me.
One day I will discover how much I have been the delight of his heart, and that shall inspire deepest worship.
Until then I enjoy the glimpses of his pleasure I catch through the kind words of the saints.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Outcome of Your Faith

"Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls." 1 Peter 1:8-9
Did you catch what Peter said is the outcome of our faith? It is joy. Joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.

The salvation of our souls is not the end. The goal of the salvation of our souls is to be filled with joy inexpressible when we see the One whom we have believed in without seeing for so long.

These past weeks at the Boardwalk I have been filled many times over with joy inexpressible because I have seen my Savior in the faces of my fellow staff members, in the faces of brothers and sisters I've met on the boardwalk, in the faces of the pastors and teenagers that come from churches all over the US to spend a week helping us out.

We are doing ministry, and we are also constantly discussing in an escalating fountain of joy the things that our God is and does. We are His and He is ours, and so we are filled with delight.

Joy inexpressible is indeed the only way to express what I have felt. There is nothing that delights me as much as celebrating our God with His people, and telling those that don't know, about Him.

We live in a time of faith. We must believe in a God we cannot see. We are drawn into a relationship with a being that we cannot see, but it will not always be so.

Now we see through a glass dimly, but one day we shall see and know in full, even as we have been known. We continue to minister to those who are indifferent or disregarding of the gospel because we have been filled with a joy inexpressible.

If we were not constantly filled with an expression of God's presence then we would quickly run dry. Yet, ministry is not the end.
Ministry is temporary, as is faith, and hope. Faith and hope will be completed and fulfilled, but love will abide always.

We could never be spurred on by love for people we don't know. At best we can only love the concept of them. We are driven to continue to preach the gospel out of love for our God.
The more unfaithful we were, the more faithful He has been, and the more humbled we are at His love.

"Love so, amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all."

"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.
"Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
"In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.
"In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
"Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
"No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us." 

The more you tell others about your excitement in God, the more you will find yourself excited about him. It's kind of a exponential effect because the God we rejoice in is infinite and the love He has poured out upon us is beyond any we could fathom.
I write these things that your joy may be made full.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Gospel

After a number of evenings of going out on the boardwalk to evangelize, this week has had some unique conversations. I've talked to people who wanted to keep talking. They actually asked questions.

I had one conversation which lasted over an hour 15 minutes about everything from the origin of the races, to gays, to drugs, to suicide, to the death of the dinosaurs, to Christian rap and back again. I came away feeling talked out. Spent, but well spent.

The next evening I went out again with a different group, and found two people who invited us to sit down on the bench between them. Raised in Catholic schools, but claiming to have "fallen away" into agnosticism they tried very hard not to offend us. However, we assured them we felt no antagonism by the fact of disagreement. Instead of proving God to them I got to explain the gospel to them for half an hour.
About half way into the conversation the guy told me he had a question which he'd never quite understood. "Why did Jesus have to come to die?"
I almost hugged him with joy for honestly asking me such a question, and I almost jumped up and sang and danced for joy. I could hardly believe what God had just dropped into my lap. He just gave me an opportunity to do something I'd spend the rest of my life doing if I could.
I'm sure my answer was lacking logical coherence and didn't cover everything about why Jesus came to die, but with by Holy Spirit's power I was able to give him an answer for the hope that I have. Indeed the entire conversation ended up revolving around the hope that I have in contrast to them and their confusion.
The conversation didn't end in tearful prayers of belief, but I hope I gave them something Holy Spirit can work into their hearts to bring them to belief in a God who can and does save.

Apparently the joy that was filing my whole being was evident the moment I stepped back into the chapel because the other staff were coming up and asking me how it went—saying they could tell something awesome had happened.
Yes. Something awesome had happened. My dream had come true. I had been able to give an answer for the hope I possess. I had been able to explain why the most tragic and the most glorious thing in history had happened. I had been able to tell a beggar like myself where real food is, that can be bought without money, and yet does very much satisfy.

There is nothing quite like explaining the gospel to a questioning soul. Proving God's existence and all that is nice, but I much prefer talking about the gospel. If I could do nothing else my whole life except sing God's praises and preach the gospel I think I would be overflowing with joy. To sing and proclaim the wonders of my God? I can think of nothing I'd rather do.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Relearning Brotherly Love

Growing up with 8 younger siblings I'm used to living with large groups of people. Some people have trouble loving their siblings, I cannot remember ever having real trouble loving them. This doesn't mean I always have, but I've never felt a constant, consistent bitterness towards them. My lack of love came more from failing to be self-aware and intentional in my love towards them.

In Wildwood I'm living in a house with the Boardwalk Chapel staff. Most of us don't (or rather didn't) know each other. I'm used to living with lots of people, but I get the chance to really see if my family was just very forgiving of my offenses constantly committed against them, or if I really have learned to love others.

Love is intentional. Love is never the chill out default mode. Regardless of how much of an easygoing personality you might have (which I think I do) making others feel loved is never the relaxed mode. Humor is a huge part of how we can cut open our brothers and sisters by pointing out a fault (in a joking manner) all for the sake of a laugh. Insults can be funny every once in a while, but a constant barrage or mis-timed insults can destroy good relationships. Our own habits and preferences are an opportunity to wear down others to the point of bitterness or exasperation.

Love does not have to be hard, but it is intentional. Paying someone a compliment can easily lose it's difficulty, but it requires intentionality to say something, rather than not. To say thank you can almost become a good habit, but it's never easier than saying nothing.

It takes intentionality to pay attention to whether our use of humor is for the building up of ourselves or others. The easy way is to just make the joke, instead of asking ourselves how it might affect others.

The beauty of being placed in a new family here is that I get to learn intentional love all over again. Jesus says that the world will know we are his by our love for one another. This is, in fact, our most important mission here, to show love to our family in Christ.

Paul tells us to outdo one another in showing honor to each other. This doesn't mean that we're always looking for ways to make us appear more godly and servant-like in the eyes of others to impress them. But it does mean we are intentional about going out of our way to please others, even if it might seem silly sometimes.
It is the little sacrifices which are done to serve others (not our own ego or reputation) which create a culture of intentional love.

Love is much more than a large act of sacrifice done rarely. Everyday love looks like refraining from a joke which would offend, offering to let another go in front of you, speaking a compliment even if you're afraid of it sounding cheesy, speaking up when conversations or actions deviate from love. Love looks like intentional actions.

Every situation we're placed in is a chance to learn how to love more deeply. What does love look like here? Is the where it requires patience? or kindness? or self-control? or not boasting?
May it be said of us on staff this year, "See how they love one another."
So that it will be obvious beyond all doubt who's family we're a part of; who's our Dad and who's our Brother.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Killing Dragons

There's an animated film called How To Train Your Dragon and the story centers around a scrawny kid named Hiccup who appears to have all bones and no muscle. He is the opposite of everything a viking should be. He finally decides to stop trying to pretend he's something he isn't and agree with his dad about his own abilities, but he finds an answer he was not expecting.
"Dad, I can't kill dragons."

"But you will kill dragons."

Interestingly enough this seems to echo my own interactions with my Father.

Timothy Moses English, that's my real name. To be perfectly honest I'm not a Paul, or even an Isaiah. I'm just a timid Timothy; a un-eloquent Moses. What does a great Apostle like Paul want with a weak, young, timid man? Is that just kindness on Paul's part towards Timothy or does he actually value and even depend on his help?
For a long time I've aspired to be a Paul—and still do—but honestly I'm really more a Timothy.
I'm not very bold about the gospel. I don't make connections quickly between the gospel and whatever conversation topic we're talking about. I'm a young, inexperienced, timid man trying to remember that we've been given the Spirit of boldness.
I'm also a Moses. I'm slow of speech. It takes me a while to think things over before answering and I'm not particularly eloquent. Moses' lack of outward gifts was obvious that he was often enviously doubted by the Israelite elders and even his own brother and sister.
I might be a little more willing to accept God's call on my life, but I have the same lack of obvious gifts.

"Dad, I can't kill dragons."
Ummm…God? I think you misfired when you sent out your ministry fire. You filled the wrong person with a desire for radical ministry. Why would you put such a desire to serve and love others when I'm clumsy, awkward, and imperceptive?

Yet, I can't help hearing his dad's reply, "But you will kill dragons."
Or, to put it the way Moses heard it, "Am I not the One who made the mouth? I will send you to Pharaoh and you will speak all the words I will put in your mouth."

We learn from Paul to boast in our weakness, but only in order to bring more honor to God. As Moses discovered, our Father is not pleased when we insist on rejecting His call because of our lack of gifts. Our weakness should never be seen as a hinderance to obeying the call, but only as a highlight of God's strength.

God is close to humble people, but far from the proud. He must be especially near those who would serve him in ministry, so He must cultivate humility within them.

He chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, the foolish of the world to shame the wise, so that in everything He might receive glory and enter into true fellowship with us.
God's constant efforts to break down our pride is not a selfish motive for Him to get the glory that is rightly His, but a loving desire to maintain fellowship with us. Pride drives us apart, but humility will draw Him in close to us.

Hiccup was despised and frustrated when he tried to fight dragons in the traditional viking way. It was only when he admitted he couldn't, that his father assured him he would.
He did fight dragons, but not in the way he originally expected. He turned viking wisdom upside down. Weak little Hiccup shamed the strong vikings who'd despised him.

"I can't kill dragons."
"But you will kill dragons."

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Willing To Die

Is it right or natural to expect or desire martyrdom?

Despite my desires to become a missionary and serve the Lord ever since I can remember, I was not interested in martyrdom. It wasn't that I just didn't want to die, but that I was concerned for those I would leave behind and that it seemed like a waste of potential ministry. Surely there was far more to be gained by living a long life of ministry rather than having my life cut short because of my love for Jesus.

However, all of that changed one night in high school. I was about 15 and I woke up completely overwhelmed with how much God loved me, how much he'd done to save me, and of course how much I wanted to serve him. Throughout my life before and after I've had many such instances. It is beautiful to be overcome by love and overwhelmed with a desire for service. It has been times like this that has convinced me that I will never be able to rest unless I am a minister of the gospel.

Yet, on that night it was different. I was suddenly aware of my own reluctance to be a willing martyr, not for my own safety, but the care and comfort of those I left behind. It seemed so selfish to go to be with Jesus while I would leave friends and family behind to grieve.
However, suddenly I was aware of a peace. Someone seemed to be saying to me that God would take care of those I left behind, and I realized that dying for the sake of the one who died for my sake is actually of incredible value relationally.
So I did the only rational thing to do, I immediately began begging God to let me serve him as a martyr. To take my life completely over as his and to send me into whatever because I knew that he would be there all the way through and especially out on the other side.
I began to ask that I would be counted worthy to suffer for the sake of the name of Christ.
I never got a definite answer that night and finally fell asleep crying with joy and humility at his love for me, and as a result my own adoring of him.

I never got a definite answer that night, but since then I've had a sneaking suspicion that that night was no accident and should not be merely discounted as a foolish nightmare (or good dream).
At the time it happened I thought that surely if I was to be a martyr I should remain single, so as to both be better devoted to God in the life I have, and for the sake of my wife becoming a widow.

I've been cautioned by some not to "sacrifice" marriage too quickly since God does not require all his servants to give up that blessing.
However, as of late I have been renewed in my heart that these callings in my heart are not vain imaginations, but there is in fact no reason not to follow them.

I bear the names of two ministers of the gospel who paid dearly for their message. Isaiah and Paul, of whom it was said, "I must show [Paul] how much he must suffer for my name's sake."
What's in a name?
The whim of the parents? Either way the hand of God is most certainly present.

I do not live as though my martyr's death has been clearly predicted, but I see no reason not to begin living as though my time is not long. God often takes our vows seriously and I have (as good as) vowed to serve him into martyrdom if he wishes.

Am I ready to endure all things now? I doubt it, but in the end it doesn't matter how much pain you can endure, it matters who you love, or rather who loves you. I have been loved with an everlasting love which can take away any pain and make me an honor to his name even unto death.

If I live, I live for Christ, and if I die, it is even better. For then I shall see face to face the one whom my heart most desires. There is no other who fills my heart with such happiness.

So I set my face to endure whatever cross lies in store for me because of the joy which is set before me—my Beloved's glorious face shining like the sun!
As some would say, "Take me home daddy!"

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Expectations and the Joy Set Before Me

I have just over two weeks left until I depart for the Boardwalk Chapel in Wildwood, New Jersey. God has answered prayers for ministry opportunities to open up and he seems to have placed his blessing on my serving at this ministry.
I will be doing beach evangelism for 3 months this summer at this chapel ministry which has been serving in this place for 69 years.
I have no idea what God has in store for me there, but I have a few expectations.

I expect God to take me out of my comfort zone.
It was bad enough evangelizing in Uganda 3 years ago where almost everyone was eager to hear what I had to say. In New Jersey I expect it to be a rather different story. I'm not inherently an attraction (as I was in Uganda: a white American in an African village) and I think people are generally less friendly to the gospel up there. I expect to be cussed out at least once, ignored, laughed at, and perhaps listened to.

I expect to learn more about who God is to unbelievers.
It is very different to share your faith with someone unfamiliar with the Bible or any sort of Christian doctrine. I expect to learn more about Jesus by trying to explain him to an unfamiliar world. I expect Jesus to become more precious to me as I seek to explain how much he's done for me and is willing to do for others.

I expect to come away more confident in sharing my faith with others, though I may grow more timid at first.
Growth requires stretching. Something that is hard and uncomfortable at first becomes more comfortable the more you do it. The same is true about evangelism.

I expect to become more aware of my own shortcomings and inadequacies, and as a result feel more dependent on God.
It's hard to feel dependent on God when you're comfortable. When you seem to have everything under control it's hard to feel as though it's actually out of your hands. By pushing ourselves outside of circumstances within our control it's easier to feel the reality that we're utterly dependent on God.

I hope to discover more of the joy of evangelism.
I'm not naturally gifted with meeting people and connecting with them, but I have a deep passion to walk with others and make disciples for my Beloved. Being filled with joy in Christ is a primary requirement for sharing him with others, but it can be hard to find that joy when I'm so focused on the words I'm trying to use to share him with others.
I have a deep passion to see broken sinners healed, blind eyes opened, dead made alive, and more people enjoying the love of God with me, but my own struggles with shyness have proved a great barrier. I'm praying for God to break down this barrier a lot while I'm there. Not so that I can become confident in my own abilities for eloquence, but so that I can be more open and free to God's direction and leading. When God puts a burden on my heart to tell someone about Jesus I don't want any part of me to get in the way of me saying, "Yes." I want to obey him more freely and become a better servant.

However, far outstripping my desire for great change to occur in me during this summer in New Jersey is my desire that souls will be saved. That images of God will be reunited with their creator. That more people will love God than did before. That Jesus will have more tongues willing to confess his kingship and more hearts delighting in his extravagant love. That lives will be changed forever. That God will bring healing to hurting sinners.
My greatest joy will be to see my God work his wonders in the people he brings into my life while in New Jersey. To see the salvation of my God come among the people in New Jersey will bring tears of joy to my eyes and inspire my heart to worship, praise, and adore him more. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Devoted to God

"I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. Is say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and secure your undivided attention to the Lord." 1 Cor. 7:32-34

Jesus talking to his disciples about marriage and singleness, "For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it." Matthew 19:11-12

I've long tried to take these passages seriously in my Christian walk. I've asked God to make me completely open to his will; that I would be perfectly happy serving my God in singleness.

It took a while for me to get there, to actually get to a point when I could envision a perfectly happy future without marriage. I had many dreams of my ideal marriage, but God has finally forced my hand open in this regard. Marriage is simply another gift that he can give or withhold, just like any other gift which he distributes unevenly. 

For a time I sought to be "open to the possibility of singleness" while still pursuing marriage. However, for me those can't go together, and I'm convinced that God wants for single for a while yet. 

I want to be spent for God's kingdom. I want to dive into the depth of giving myself over completely to God and his service. 
Many of the pioneer missionaries either began as single missionaries or soon became so. Many devoted ministers of the gospel who were married left their wives for great periods of time. 
Marriage is full of blessings, but it is a balance of cultivation an exclusive relationship with one person and (likely) raising a houseful of kids. Balancing this beside full-time ministry is challenging, even if the wife can be helpful. 
We're not meant to live life alone, but that doesn't necessarily mean marriage.
I'm not interested in the whole introspective discussion on "the gift of singleness" I just know that I want to be completely devoted to God and see that as most likely involving singleness.
I believe I'm in Jesus' last category of "eunuchs;" the ones who have made themselves so for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.
He's not talking about merely castrating oneself that that one is not tempted to sexual immorality. He's saying that some stay unmarried in order to advance the kingdom of God. 
This is something I have taken very seriously and believe he may be calling me to such a ministry.

I know that I'll be married one day, to my Lord and Savior, the love of my life, Jesus Christ.
In light of that I'm quite unconcerned with securing marriage before then.
I'm only interested in how to serve him most with the best part of my life. Come quickly Lord Jesus!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The beast becomes beautiful…

The story is often told of a beast and a beauty, and many have rightly noted the lesson to be learned from Belle's perspective, "that a thing must be loved before it can be beautiful;" however, there is another, often overlooked lesson: "that in order to truly love we must stop trying to become 'one who loves.'"

There once was a prince who thought himself charming and possessing great love and compassion. He thought himself friendly, loving and generous. Yet, through the curse (or blessing) of an enchantress he was forced to come to terms with what he had always been inside. What had been obvious to so many was now painfully obvious to himself as well.

After hating the revelation at first he eventually learned to appreciate it's truth and became motivated to change. The revelation was never meant as a mere inditement of his character, but as a catalyst for change. Revulsion at himself spurred him on to valiant efforts to become beautiful.

However, as days turned into months, and months into years, the zeal faded away and the change had still not been accomplished. There was little to show for the efforts made and zeal for change morphed into despair of ever changing at all. He was ugly and that was all there was to it.

He gradually become content in his beastly appearance, but convinced it was not a true reflection of his character. Efforts at changing his appearance had been made, but were finally abandoned and ignored. He would learn to live life with a beastly appearance.

It was not until a hapless traveler stumbled in his doors that he began to see that he was beast inside as well as outside. People are harder to love than enchanted objects. It turns out they want more than "genuine" silence, or rude demands. They want words as well as actions. They don't want self-interest, they want interest in themselves.

While the beast remained focused on the change in himself he wished to affect he found his efforts fruitless. He could never love Belle until he focused on her instead of himself finding love. As days passed he gave up more and more of his own desires until he finally had given everything to others. His last breath found him declaring the irrelevance of his own desires to become a beautiful person again.
Yet it was that final renouncing of his own desires that made him beautiful inside, and so the transformation from beast to prince which seemed almost instantaneous was actually a long time in the making. The real change had happened gradually so that it was almost imperceptible even to himself until in a moment it became obvious to all that he was no longer a beast, but a prince.

It was not until the beast came to terms with who he really was and his inability to change that real change became a possibility. He only learned to love only by forgetting himself and his own desire to become handsome again.

I am a beast. Not in the good sense, just the awkward sense. When beast tries to "invite" Belle to dinner on her first night at the castle, that sense.
I've always been shy. Yet, I love people. However, I believed gestures, actions, and meaningful silence to be the most sincere.
I'm afraid of talking because it will sound fake and insincere; so my words are brief and to the point. I assume what people are thinking and what they will understand by my silence. I assume they will understand it means things like respect and sincerity.
Instead I've found that people actually assume that it means disinterest and a lack of care (imagine that). Tender silence is easily taken as rude disinterest or a lack of initiation—which proves a lack of real affection (who knew?).

As one who has long aspired to the difficult call of full-time ministry this has been something more or less on my mind throughout the years. To minister to people they have to trust you and you have to connect with all sorts of people. I've struggled off and on to figure out how to cope with such a weakness and have mostly contented myself with developing the other gifts necessary for such a calling; until recently being told that until such a gift developed I should abandon plans for the ministry.

After trying so hard lately to become someone I have never really been I had become really discouraged. I began to despair of ever becoming a prince on the inside, much less the outside.
However, I have found lately that in my weakness my God is made strong. Yahweh who gave Moses the confidence and eloquence to talk to Pharaoh and preach to all Israel is making me into something I never thought I would be.

I feel as though I'm watching my life from a distance viewpoint right now. I'm seeing myself doing things that amaze me afterwards because I would never have done them before. People want you to talk to them to let them know they are appreciated and loved (strange I know), and I, who have always found small talk annoying and awkward find myself making it with complete strangers(!). I, who can never think of anything to say of relevance to current conversations between casual friends suddenly find connections coming out my ears.
Surely God can do whatever He wants. I'm looking with great to see what God will do with His servant Isaiah Paul English. Meanwhile, I myself am focused on simply loving people and showing them they are loved by God.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Awaiting orders

I never expected my first post to be one about waiting, but one of my friends also called to the mission field recently shared some wisdom on the waiting aspect of ministry. So it got me thinking and realizing the importance of waiting.

Many of my plans have been changed or at least put on hold throughout my life so far and I've had to learn how to give everything over to God.

I've got a  burning desire to minister to others and enter the mission field, but lately I've found myself spinning my wheels without a clear direction.

My own gift for out-going-personal interactions was questioned seriously to the point of a lack of financial support for going to seminary. As a result my seminary plans have been put on hold.

Instead of going right from college into seminary I find myself landscaping to pay off college debt while I wait and the months of my short life tick away.

I want to get out of this consumer and entitlement culture in America and find the poor and destitute and unlovable, and show them that there is a God who loves them infinitely. I don't know how many years I have left on this earth so I don't want to wait any longer than I have to.

I'm cool with the slow-moving, waiting, culture present in most South American and African countries, but I'm anxious to get there. What is this? I want to hurry up and go so I can wait.

Well, at least there I could tell people I'm on the mission field and I would be less judged for waiting or inactivity. I hate the uncertainty and I'm afraid people will place the blame on me for my waiting. I'll be called lazy or thought of as one lacking initiative (which might be true).

My problem lies who I'm assuming makes the plans I'm following. If I continue to assume that I'm responsible for my plans then I will be frustrated with my waiting. However, if I remember that God is in charge, He's the one I'm working for, things become easier.

Do I really believe all things and all times are under the direction of God? That even the delay and the waiting are part of His plan? Could I live like His ways are higher and wiser than mine?

God knows exactly how long I will live and how much time I need to complete my task in kingdom advancement. If I die at a relatively young age it will not have been a surprise for God.

I've asked Him for a full life at the possible expense of a long life in the spirit of Jim Elliot, so when my life seems to be lacking fullness I get frustrated. Some of it may be my fault—and I'm sure I'm not being as proactive in finding ministry opportunities as I could be—but what I've been missing lately is the fact that God is also in control of my waiting. He's closed some important doors (like money, for seminary) and I'm in His hands.

The heart of the missionary is as important to God as the heart of the people he's ministering to. God needs humble servants to do His greatest work and having to wait is another lesson in humility. A lesson I'm so very slow at learning…I'm afraid there is much work to be done before I could ever be fit for great things. But I'm confident that the one who began a good work in me will see it through to the end!
I wait because I'm not the master. I'm not the one in charge. I'm a-waiting further orders.