Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Struggling with Application

Luke 9:23-25 (NIV)
Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?

            Right now I am struggling with embracing truth and applying truth. I know that it is not enough to acknowledge something as true; we have to act upon it. James tells us that we must practice our faith, not just study it.  Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it--he will be blessed in what he does. James 1:22-25 (NIV)

            I just finished reading Francis Chan’s book “Crazy Love.” It is a challenging book about living a life fully committed to Jesus Christ. What he has to say is both based on scripture and radical in its application. This is where my struggle emerges.

            All of my life I have struggled with guilt. I am not talking about honest guilt; the kind we feel when we have done something wrong. I am talking about misplaced guilt. When I was a young boy, adults could make me feel guilty about things that I didn’t do. It was not that they tried to do this; it was my response to their words. This may come from my high sense of responsibility, which is another issue. Let me give you an example.

            It was in 5th grade; Mr. Welsh’s class. The time came for music. Many of the boys balked at singing during music time because they didn’t think it was cool. I loved to sing. Singing has always been a part of my experience. We sang at church, in the car on trips and at home. I had no problem with singing. That day Mr. Welsh announced that if any of the boys did not sing he would make them come to the front and sing in front of the class. The music began and I sang heartily. When the music stopped Mr. Welsh slowly walked up and down the aisles. He paused at my desk and I looked up and said, “I was singing.” His response was, “A guilty conscience needs no accuser. Go to the front of the room.” I was devastated.

            I confess that I felt some of those same feelings as I read “Crazy Love”. God does not call all of us to do the same things or live the same way. He does call all of us to love Him and love others. The expression of that love is going to look different in different situations. The key is what direction are you headed. Are you intentionally moving toward loving God and loving others or are you moving toward loving self? The problem, which Chan masterfully raises, is that we are often blind to our own condition. We can convince ourselves that we are doing the right things without really doing them. We can be like the people that James wrote about who give lip service to the faith.

            When Jesus issued the Great Commission to His disciples He told them that they would be His witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea, and Samaria and the ends of the earth. Let me draw a couple of practical applications to this command.

            Start where you are. When I was growing up I felt like if I wanted to really be committed to Christ I had to go someplace else; usually some remote jungle in some difficult part of the world. We cannot start there. If we are going to be serious about following Jesus we need to begin right where we are. So how can I love God and love others in the situation I am in?

            Gradually expand your influence. Jesus didn’t make the jump from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth in one step. As we grow in our faith we can expect God to give us new opportunities to do ministry. These will most likely stretch us, maybe even make us uncomfortable. Not only should we be willing, we should actually take these next steps.  

            Explore how far God would have you to go. The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit has given each of us gifts that we are to use for the common good. These gifts fit together to create the whole body of Christ. Some of these gifts are very visible and “up-front”. Some of these gifts are more behind the scenes. All of them are important. As each part does its job the whole functions in a healthy manner. The key is that God does not expect us all to do the same thing. In fact He wants us to do different things to reach a greater goal.

            When I was in high school I felt God’s call on my life to go into vocational ministry. I assumed that meant missions and so I worked toward that end. I put all of the pieces together to work on the mission field but I had no peace. I thought what was missing was some theological training so I went to Seminary. Within my first year at Seminary God made it clear that I was headed in the wrong direction. He had called into vocational ministry to be a pastor not a missionary overseas. I have seen God’s hand on the ministry He has given me. I have seen lives transformed by the power of God’s love. But there are times that I still feel guilty because I didn’t become a “missionary.”

            God wants to use all of us in ways that match up with the way He created us. He has called all of us to be His witnesses. We all need to actively live out our faith in practical ways. My call looks different than your call and vice versa. Let us fully embrace the journey that God has set before us and celebrate the different paths that others may be following for the glory of God.

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