Discipleship

Finding Security

34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it.

Mark 8:34-36

 

FindingSecurity.jpg

Since the mass shooting in a Texas church a week ago, I have had many within my church ask me about church security. Their questions are appropriate; my answers are, perhaps, inadequate.

As a pastor, I have given thought to the security of our church when it gathers; although I am quite sure that I have not given it enough thought. We need to be vigilant regarding the physical safety of the people whom God has entrusted to us as they gather. This is why I am meeting with several people from my church with a background in security and law enforcement.

That said, two recent events in my life have taken my thoughts about security in other directions. The first occurred a few weeks ago. My twenty-year-old daughter told our family that she was going to serve as a missionary for six months in The Republic of Cameroon, Africa. Of course, I am excited for her. Her love for Jesus and people is strong so I am not surprised to see her seizing this opportunity.  Yet there are others around me who show concern and shock that I, her father, would allow her to embark on such an “unsafe” journey.  I have specifically not raised my daughter, or any of my children, to be safe.  I have raised my children to be adults. A twenty-year-old woman is an adult.

When my kids lived with me I had rules for their safety. I did not want them driving home at two o’clock in the morning; there were safer times to be on the road. I taught them to lock their car doors after getting in and to always keep the house doors locked. They knew not to talk to strangers. I taught them “street smarts”. This was all to help keep them safe.

I taught my kids how to be safe, however, anyone who follows Jesus is called to abandon their own lives for the sake of Jesus and His good news (Mark 8:34-35).  Some places are dangerous to visit, but if you go to tell someone about Jesus, He tells us it is worth the risk.  Yes, as a father I am nervous and concerned for my daughter. As a Christ follower, I am amazed by the beauty of my daughter and her decision to use her feet to deliver the good news (Romans 10:15). 

The second event that influenced my thoughts on security occurred in a hospital across the street from my church. I was called to pray with a family who was about to pull life support from a family member, this is never an easy visit. The family informed me that the woman about to pass was a Christian. I opened my Bible and read:

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” John 10:27-28

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39


There is safety! Anyone who is in Christ is safe. It doesn’t matter where we are, what time it is or who we are with. We are safe. Peter refers to Jesus as the guardian of our souls (1 Peter 2:25). Our bodies are in his hands as well, but there is no guarantee for the safety and health of our bodies. We can seek to live as safely as possible, avoiding all risk, and the end result will be the same; physical death. 

My daughter puts her physical safety at risk by going to Cameroon. She does it for the sake of Jesus and His good news. Her soul could not be any safer.

The woman in the hospital (who died twenty minutes after my visit) is also safe because she believed in Jesus. 

As the pastor of a small church, I will seek to make our gathering place safe, however, I am far more concerned with the safety of the souls in our community.


How is the security of your soul?


 

God Uses Broken Things

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.                

2 Corinthians 1:3-5

 

blogfoster.jpg

Something amazing happened to me the other day. Be patient. This will take a few words to unpack properly.

I am a foster and adoptive parent. I am 52 years old and my house is still filled with kids. Currently, we have six kids in our home. Our last foster placement came about six weeks ago. Honestly, it has been the most difficult placement in our seven years of fostering. The difficulties have come due to two factors. First, the amount of kids and their ages in our home. Though we already had four kids in our home we felt that God was leading us to open our home to more kids in need. So we did. I was really hoping for some older kids, but that is not how things worked out. We added a 1 year old and 4 year old to our twin 2 year olds and a 5 year old. Yes, we now have five kids five and under. The State even has rules prohibiting that many young kids in a foster home, but they were willing to break the rules.  The second factor making this placement difficult is the behavior of the new kids. All kids in the foster system come from broken places which significantly impact their behavior. But in seven years, this has been the hardest to adjust to.

For the first month it felt as if my wife and I were drowning. It was difficult to find our new normal. We questioned ourselves if we had somehow moved ahead of God and done something that he really wasn’t leading us to do. Maybe these kids were supposed to find another home and we got in the way. These were our honest questions. In the midst of our doubt God showed us something amazing!

Two months prior to welcoming these two kids into our home I accepted an invitation to teach a class to foster parents for their continued education as a requirement for keeping their foster licenses. I enjoy opportunities to give back into the community that has helped us navigate so many difficulties in fostering kids. I was asked to teach the class several months before it took place to give me time to write the curriculum. When it was time to teach the class I was no longer feeling energized and excited to teach, but rather barely making it with our new placements. On top of that, the class was more than 50 miles away. Keeping my commitment, I headed across town to teach the class. Walking into the class I saw a young man that I had not seen since he was in high school and I was a pastor at his church. It was nice to see a familiar face and I was encouraged that he and his young family were entering foster/adoptive ministry.

Throughout the three hour class I used a few personal examples from my own life using my foster kids first names. After the class my friend came to me. He asked me about two of the names I had used. He asked if they came into my home about a month ago. He went on to tell me that he was the officer called to help DCS safely remove the children from the home they were in. He could describe my kids perfectly.

Driving home I was overwhelmed by several thoughts. First, driving to the class I was filled with questions and doubts as to whether we should continue this placement. But I could not dismiss as a coincidence the fact that months ago I planned to teach a class that I had never taught before on the other side of town and bump into an old friend who happened to be the cop who helped save my kids. I believe that God was showing us both something very special. He was showing my friend that the kids he had pulled from a dangerous place had landed in a safe home. God was showing me that he had planned for these kids to come to our home long before the police were called. I was no longer wondering if we had stepped out of God’s will.

Experiencing confirmation that we were in God’s will, though, did not make our journey any easier. We still had a heavy load filled with difficult behavior from traumatized children. But just because something is hard does not mean we should not do it. God wants us to step into difficult places to accomplish his will. As Christians, we are called to share in the suffering of Jesus so that we may also share in his comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-5). Christians are called to difficult things. To simply seek to preserve our own comfort and protect our pleasure is to miss out on what life really is (Mark 8:34-35).

Another thought consuming my mind was how God uses broken systems to do his will. Anyone who has fostered kids knows that the “system” is broken. DCS, the Department for Child Safety, is not the end all for the children of the State of Arizona. It is flawed. But so is every other human institution and system. Even my family is broken. It is flawed and it has a flawed leader. But in the midst of broken systems, using DCS, the Phoenix Police Department and my family….God rescued two children.

God uses broken things to accomplish his will and do beautiful things. God used Moses, who had a speech problem, to speak to the leader of Egypt to negotiate the release of God’s people (Exodus 4:10-11). God used David, the smallest of all his brothers, to lead a nation (1 Samuel 16:1-11). God uses local governments (Romans 13:1-7). And God can use you.

 

 

 

Count it all Joy

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” James 1:2

 

countitalljoy.jpg

This morning I sat among a group of men who gathered together to break open the New Testament epistle (letter) from James. I had no agenda for how far we would get this first morning in the book. In an hour we had considered and discussed only the first four verses. It was a rich morning.

The men ranged in age from 25 to their late 80’s.  Several seasoned, veteran missionaries were present. One thing became clear, we were all familiar with trials. Not one of us had successfully evaded them.  In fact, you also are familiar with trials. They come upon all of us. If we are not in one today, we might expect one tomorrow.

To consider something painful and hard as something good that will yield joy is not a natural reflex to us. In order to follow this command there is something that we must first know. We must “know that the testing of (our) faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:3). This knowing is far more than simple mental assent. It is something intimate. The Bible uses the word “know” to describe physical intimacy between a husband and wife (Matt. 1:25). The word is also used to describe the intimacy that we can enjoy with God (1 John 2:3). So, to know that trials produce steadfastness is more than a piece of information that we collect and hang onto intellectually. It is something we discover to be true through experience.

The steadfastness that trials produce is an unwavering faith that God is sufficient for whatever it is that we are going through. King David possessed such a faith. At a time when he was alone and hiding to save his life he wrote: “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” (Psalm 4:8). At a time when David could be awake with fear he was, instead, able to sleep peacefully knowing that God was able to keep him safe.

How did David come to know this about God? Experience. He had endured other trials that had produced steadfastness, an unwavering faith that God is sufficient. Long before David faced the giant, Goliath, he had taken on lions and bears to keep his flock of sheep safe. David knew that God was sufficient. Thus, having an intimate understanding of the sufficiency of God, David was able to sleep with peace in the midst of danger.

James begins his letter by introducing himself as a servant of God. This gives us another clue into how we can become the kind of person who is able to count trials as joy. Most often, when we think of a servant we think about what the servant does for the master. There is, however, another very important aspect of servanthood that is to be understood. Yes, a servant serves their master. But a servant must also trust in his or her master for everything they have. A servant is dependent upon their master. A servant relies on their master for all that they need to live. James depended on his Master for all that he needed and his Master had not once disappointed him.  James’ ability to count trials as joy did not from a steadfastness that flowed out of who James was, but rather a steadfastness that flowed out of who God is. He is faithful. He is sufficient. He can be trusted, even in trials.

If we trust God in the trials we face today, we will learn that our Master is sufficient. We will develop an unwavering faith which will help us in tomorrow’s trials. We will know peaceful sleep in the midst of trouble. We will begin to know God more as he is. Count it all joy!

Choosing Chains

“For she said, ‘I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.’” Hosea 2:5

 
 

Gomer loved her stuff. If you are unfamiliar with the story of Gomer, it is found in the small prophetical book of Hosea. It is, indeed, a unique book. More than any other prophet, God used the life of this prophet to tell the story of the relationship between God and his people.

God told his prophet to marry a prostitute. You might view this as a life rescued. Gomer did not need to prostitute herself any longer. She had the care and protection of a husband, a godly man. Gomer never needed to return to her life of prostitution again. She was free. But again, we find her living the life of a whore (not my words, but God’s); and this is what seems so preposterous to us. Why would any woman who has been freed from her slavery in prostitution return to it? It is ludicrous and scandalous.

Gomer loved her stuff. To be clear, the stuff that she loved was not necessarily evil in and of itself. What she loved looks more like a grocery list to us. Bread, water, wool, flax, oil and beverages are common household items to us. What was the draw for Gomer? Her lovers were numerous. Her motive was singular: the reward. She distanced herself from her husband for what she believed was a greater reward. And that is just the point that God wants to make with us.

We look at Gomer and think it is sad that a woman would return to prostitution when she had been freed. The book of Hosea essentially tells us to look in a mirror. It is ludicrous that a woman freed from prostitution would return to it. It is just as ludicrous that someone freed from the need for comfort food would return to it for the reward to be found above and before the comfort of God. It is just as ludicrous as a person freed from the need to be more important than others would return to gossip. It is ludicrous that a person freed from greed would return to their career advancement above seeking God’s kingdom first.

 Looking in the mirror we should find that Gomer is not that different than us. We are not better than her. God tells us this story so that we would identify with Gomer. Gomer is simply returning to a different form of the same sin as ours. It is called idolatry. And we also love our stuff. It might not be flax seed and oil, but when we return to the things that we have been freed from we do it for the reward. We see the reward to be greater than the reward of knowing and loving God. Yes, this is ludicrous.

The story of Hosea and Gomer is an invitation for us to return to the greater reward. Hosea is told to go purchase his wife out of her sexual enslavement. The Father has purchased us with his son, Jesus. You are not just freed from a petty reward, but rather freed for a great reward. We are freed to know and love God! That is where there is greater reward. We will all have cravings for the lesser reward just as Gomer did. Let that craving push you in a better direction, toward God. The prodigal son returned home because he was hungry (Luke 15:16-17). When he returned to his father he received far more than a lesser reward. He received the greater reward, love.

Generosity

“They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” 1 Timothy 6:18-19

 
 

The above verses are part of the Apostle Paul’s direction for Timothy as a young pastor. Paul encouraged Timothy to instruct the rich to be generous. I know that we are in some tough economic times, but most of you reading this fit in the category of the rich. If you are a struggling student without much spare change but live in America, you are rich. If you consider yourself lower to middle class and find it a struggle to pay your rent or mortgage every month, you are still rich. Just pay attention to yourself at how many times in a day you find yourself saying, “I need ____________.”  I catch myself saying how hungry I am on a regular basis. I have not missed a meal in my entire life.  Check out some of these stats:

  • 20% of the world live on one dollar a day.
  • Another 20% live on two dollars a day.
  • 20% of us live on seventy dollars a day or more.
  • The other 40% are somewhere in-between. [1] 

My guess is that you fall in the upper 20%. If so, take heed of the above advice from Paul found in the Bible.

Why is this such important advice?  Because if we miss it we miss life. I think this is why Jesus said, “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it,” (Luke 17:33). There is an interesting word found in the original Greek text in these two passages. The word for life in 1 Timothy 6:19 is the word zoe. This is a special word for life. Everyone reading this has life, or bios. You have a pulse, you breathe, therefore you have life. But that does not necessarily mean that you have a life. The life that Paul and Jesus are both talking about are the abundant life that Christ came to give us (John 10:10). He came to give us a life worth having.

The question can be made: Can you have salvation without having this abundant life that Christ came to give?  To a degree, I think you can. I think we can miss out on the abundance that Christ came to give on a daily basis. The fact that Timothy, a pastor, is called to remind the rich in his congregation, who are most likely saved Christians, to be generous, then it is possible for rich Christians to live for only temporary things thus missing what is truly life.

Real life is found in living outside of yourself. I could give you reason after reason for becoming a generous person, but I won’t. Instead, let me simply encourage you to do this: Live on less and give to others in need. Just try it. If there is no life to be found there then you are free to return to your selfish ways.

As for myself, I find it hard to live past myself. I have only tasted of this abundant life in small portions. But I have tasted it. It is there. If I could just permanently remove myself from the center of need for satisfaction from worldly things I would taste this life more. Jesus said that our hearts would be where our treasure is (Matthew 6:21). Perhaps we all need a treasure transplant.
 
Pressing On,
 
Pastor Drew

 

 

___________________________________________________

[1] David A. Livermore, Serving with Eyes Wide Open, p. 22.