Friday, October 29, 2010

Destination: Heaven

I was sitting in church this past Sunday when my pastor referenced a verse in part of his sermon, and there went my mind down another rabbit hole. All it took was him mentioning Matthew 7: 13-14:

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Have you ever worried about this verse? I used to hear it and immediately think I was going to miss the turn-off. Or, I was going to think I was on the trail, but be miles from it. Then again, maybe I would, by chance, find the gate but never be able to stay on such a narrow path. Do you see how my mind works? And that verse? It makes it sound virtually impossible to get into heaven.

So there I sat on Sunday, focused on that verse, wondering why Jesus said so few would find the small gate. And I realized, it's not because He doesn't have it marked, it's because so many just don't see it; whether because we refuse to or because we've been fooled into believing something else. The gate isn’t hidden though, nor is the path just arbitrarily narrow, as if He made it that way to have it impossible to find and frustrate us once we do. No, the small gate leading to the narrow road is clearly marked. Jesus dying on the cross is the sign that points us to it, keeping His Word is what keeps us on it. The way we miss it is when we ignore the signs and keep moving on our own path.

John 4:6 tells us about the small gate when it says: “Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” See, there is only one way to get on this road – making it a narrow entrance. But, there is only one thing you need to do to walk through that gate. It is something everyone can do and anyone who does it is immediately ushered through. Here it is, Romans 10:9: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” No other qualifications are needed, it is that simple. But here is where so many of us mess up.

We live in this world where everything is about show. It’s about how much you do and how well you do it. Well, I’m telling you, to make it through that narrow gate you can live what those around you would call a perfect life, but if you don’t follow Romans 10:9, you’ll miss the gate. You may know the Bible, you may keep His commandments, treat others nicely, and give to the poor. You may even attend church five times a week. These are all great and wonderful things, but none of them will pull you off the wide path, walk you through the narrow gate, and place you on the narrow path. This is why the verse says many enter the wide gate and only few find the narrow path. So many of us fool ourselves into thinking that if we just live a good life, we’re getting into heaven. Let me be blunt. This will never happen. So please, do not be fooled! Our salvation does not come through works of any kind. “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

All right, the gate is small, but thank the Lord that He takes anyone who asks right on through. Now what about that narrow path? I guess I see that road like any other you drive on. It’s narrow because of boundaries put in place that keep us safe. What are our boundaries? Just look at the Bible. Things like the Ten Commandment (Exodus 20:2-17) and the Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) put up lines on our road to follow. Proverbs is a wonderful read of simple wisdom, some of it so simple you literally wonder, “Now why didn’t I think of that?” Or what about the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and all of Paul’s letters to the churches? (Romans – Philemon, and possibly Hebrews, but no one’s 100% that he wrote that one)

I could go on, but do you get what I’m saying here? It’s God’s Word, in its’ entirety, that shows us how to live our Christian lives. See, when David said in Psalms (another great read, by the way, especially for just about any mood you’re in) “Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path”(Psalm 119:105), he wasn’t kidding. God’s word is what guides us, it’s what puts the boundaries up on that narrow road. You would never try to drive on the highway at night without your lights on, would you? Not with the expectation that you could see where you were going and stay safe. No, you'd use your headlights to light the way. So, use the Bible, learn it and know it, and it will light God's path for you. And if you're new to the faith, find a good church where people can help you learn and grow. Accountability will help you stay on that path, too.

Okay, there's one last thing about this road. Sometimes it’s easy to see when we cross the yellow line. We’ve done something and it’s obvious we crossed a line and we need to correct it. Other times we don’t know we’ve done something wrong until we hit the rumble strip. Someone close to us speaks with us (here's where accountability comes in), or the Holy Spirit begins to conflict us. We have a rumbling in our spirit that shakes us awake and tells us to move – quickly – from what we are doing. What happens if we refuse to listen to that? We eventually hit the guard rail doing 70 mph, the results of which are not always pretty.

Yes, the way is narrow. But that’s what keeps us safe. It also keeps us heading in the right direction. There may be road blocks and detours along the way, but keep on keeping on. The destination couldn’t be better. Heaven. No more tears, no more pain, no more sorrow. Only laughter, joy, happiness. Only love. Now that's a destination worth traveling for.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Timid

What keeps us from our ‘What if’s’ in life? What keeps us from taking those steps forward? I think it’s that too many of us wear the name tag of Timid, believing we cannot do the task God’s placed in front of us; not because we’re not able, but because we lack the courage.

Have you ever really looked at the definition of ‘timid’? Here it is:

Timid: lacking in self-assurance, courage, or bravery; easily frightened or upset; shy.

Now I am not even going to try and pretend here. That definition is me. I cringe when placed in a group. I cannot remember names for the life of me, even if I have met you more times than you can count. I cannot easily express my thoughts when speaking, and just the thought of having to do so has me quaking in my sneakers. I don't really like attention of any sort. I am shy and if I had my choice, I’d stay well away from new situations and new people. Can anyone else relate? God’s been working on me with this one though, and I hope to be an encouragement today to those of us that struggle with being timid.

You see, there’s a problem with believing we’re timid and it’s put me in a quandary these last few months. For starters, there’s a few verses that I know but until recently chose not to apply to this area in my life. Philippians 4:13 says “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” and 2 Timothy 1:7 tells us “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of sound mind.” Great verses for many things, but I never used them when God laid it on my heart to go talk to my neighbor. Instead, I had to remind God that I’m shy.

Those two words “I’m shy” became like a little sign I hid behind, my finger pointing to the next person so that He’d pass over me. And quite honestly, I was just fine with that! Sure, I’ve always had a burning desire for everyone to know God, I just didn’t want to be the one to tell them about Him. I mean, I can talk all day about His grace and His glory, and if someone specifically asked about God I’d tell them. I just didn’t want to be pulled out of out of my comfort zone to speak with another person. Besides, don’t you have to have some sort of special calling for that?

About the time I asked the above question I received a Love Shove. All of us who are saved should feel a calling to reach the lost, and we don’t need to be a preacher to do that. God also reminded me that He had created my personality. It was of no surprise to Him, and He didn’t create it to be used as an excuse. Once again, while focusing on my label I was taking the focus off of His power in my life and shining it on me. There are people out there who desperately need Him, and my excuse for not reaching them is “I’m shy”. How is that going to hold up someday when I stand before God? I'm guessing not too well.

So listen, we who are Timid cannot continue to define ourselves through that label. There is a lost world out there who needs God and if we don’t go tell them about Him, who will? I am not saying you have to get on a stage and preach this Sunday (though if God calls you to it, you better listen!). But I am saying we cannot live in our houses, saved by Grace and keeping it to ourselves.

Big talk, I know. I cringe even typing these words because if I’m saying them I’d better be willing to live them. It’s a daily process for me. But here’s the amazing thing about God; when you focus on Him all other things fade away. There is a boldness that comes from Christ that is found no place else. It comes through His power in our lives and that’s what we want others to see; Him, not us! Just look at how Paul explained it: “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.” (I Corinthians 2:1-5)

We may know what it means to be timid, lacking in courage. We can even identify with Paul in his trembling. But we cannot let that stop us from reaching a lost world, especially when God wants to use it to reach them. Remember when we are weak, He is strong!

One day this world is going to end. One day we will all stand before the Lord. Don't let one of your 'What If's' be 'What if I would have told them...' Instead, the next time you feel God nudging you to do something and you believe your name is Timid, I want you to remember these words that David spoke and I’m now speaking to you: “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD God, my God, is with you.” AMEN!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

'Sign'

Have you ever felt not good enough? Like God is crazy for picking you to do something? There are times where I find myself laughing at God as He’s nudging me. The conversation goes something like this:

“Ohhhh, good one God. I really needed that laugh.” My laughter continues until I notice He’s not laughing with me. This creates a bit of an awkward moment as I reel my laughter back in. "Um wait, you were serious? Yeah okay, I’ll just pretend I didn’t hear you on that one.”

And I do. I turn my head, avoid His gaze and go about my day. I do, after all, have legitimate reasons for my ignoring His request. And, as He created me, He should already know them. I mean do I really need to remind him of the names on my name tag? Insignificant. Insufficient. They sit side by side. So just swing that finger around and pick someone else, because I am not your girl.

Well, as you can imagine, that excuse doesn’t work out so well. And, though that answer was never good enough for God, it has only recently become not good enough for me. My hope is that the same thing will happen for you.

Let’s go back to our manual then, shall we? Pull out God’s Word, and we’ll start there because let me tell you, it’s full of people who we would classify as insignificant. And yet, God used them. David to take down Goliath. Mary to birth a savior. Simple fishermen to preach the gospel. And many more who all answered the call. Can you imagine if they hadn’t? Surely they had to have moments of questioning and moments where fear began to overtake them. Yet, instead of stepping into their fear, they turned and stepped into the presence of the One who gives us courage. In doing so, we ceased to see their shortcomings and instead saw God. He can do the same with us.

Still not convinced? Then let’s look more closely at what the Bible says about some of these people who we’ve elevated to a state of near perfection that we like to believe we fall short of. Because when we look more closely we begin to realize that if God can use them, He can also use us.

Did you know that Moses stuttered? That he was afraid to speak in public because of it? Listen to Exodus 4:10. “But Moses pleaded with the Lord, “O Lord, I’m not very good with words. I never have been, and I’m not now, even though you have spoken to me. I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled.” (Exodus 4:10) Yep, even Moses got tongue-tied, but that didn’t stop God. He simply sent Aaron with Moses to be his spokesman.

Then there was Paul. Paul was a force to be reckoned with in the Bible, spreading the message of Christ far and wide. Yet, he was not the dynamic teacher many today see him as. 2 Corinthians 10:10 tells us “for some say, ‘His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.’” Wow. Pretty harsh words. Yet, undeniably, God used him.

And for those of us who feel we’re not smart enough. Here’s a verse I love! “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:12) Yep, unschooled and ordinary, yet they had been with Jesus and He used them mightily.

See, God’s word is pretty clear. And do you know what it says about all this? If not, then listen closely. While we’re telling Him our name is rooted in insignificance or insufficiency, He’s ever so gently responding, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9) Amen!

People, we’re not perfect and we were never meant to be. He created us with weaknesses so that His strength could show through them. In this, we see our need for Him while others get to see Him at work in us. It was His perfect plan. He didn’t create us with weaknesses so we wouldn’t feel good enough, but rather so He could use us without our getting in His way. That verse in Corinthians goes on to say, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.” It’s through our limitations that He uses us, not in spite of them. (Does this mean we don’t have strengths? No, of course not, but today I’m focusing on how we handle our weaknesses.)

Listen, when all we ever do is focus on our weaknesses we are once again denying Christ’s power in our lives. And let’s think about that for a moment, because as I wrote this I became very convicted over something. Not only am I denying His power in me, but I’m making myself way too large a part of the equation. I may not be educated, eloquent, or creative, but when did this become about me? It’s about God, and I need to get out of His way and let Him work through me. That’s part of the problem though. Stick with me a moment. While there are those times that we’ve truly bought into the lie that we are not good enough, there are also the moments where we choose to believe them because it’s easier. If we believe we’re not good enough then we can use that as an excuse for not stepping out of our comfort zones. We don’t have to risk failure or people seeing us fail. Most of all, we don’t have to risk the disappointment of our failure.

So we have to make a choice. Either stay where we are, believing there is nothing about us that God can use (and who’s telling you that lie?), or step forward in faith to what God has called us to. There is no guarantee that we won’t fail, but even what may seem like a failure to us will be counted a success to God. Remember what He said. His power is made ‘perfect’ in our weakness.

So here’s what I want you to do. Where you’ve written ‘Insufficient’ on your name tag, cross out that prefix and simply write ‘Sufficient’ because His grace IS sufficient. And for where you’ve written ‘Insignificant’, cross out everything but ‘Sign’. As I studied the word ‘insignificant’ I found that it’s base is in the Latin word ‘signen’ or ‘sign’ which meant, “to mark with a sign, especially the sign of the cross.” And that’s what I want to do, don’t you? Everywhere we go let’s leave our mark. The mark of Christ.