Friday, February 15, 2013

Lessons from the “Perfect Storm”

Recently I had what some would call “the perfect storm.”  In a matter of two weeks my computer was stolen, all my data lost, and I bought a replacement computer, only to learn it was stolen.  The stolen computer was returned to its rightful owner (good news), but I am still out $900 (bad news).  The thought of having to recreate so many documents that I use in ministry and life is almost overwhelming.  Today I finally had the clarity of mind and spirit to record my lessons from this ordeal.  Here they are:

1.    Eternal Perspective. 
Hebrews 10:34 says you “joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.”  Wow.  If we really believe that what we have on earth is temporal, and what we have in heaven in eternal, then we will grip loosely our earthly possessions, even those as helpful and “needed” as a computer.  I want to be able to have joy in the midst of my stolen computer.  This is certainly possibly if my focus is on what is eternal.  Perhaps this is when it is especially important to “set your mind on the things above, not on earthly things” (Col. 3:2).
2.    Forgive Others.
If we truly understand that we have been forgiven a huge debt before God, then we must forgive those who sin against us.  Eph. 4:32 says to “forgive as you’ve been forgiven.”  If I don’t forgive the one who stole my computer, and the one who sold me a stolen computer, then bitterness and resentment will conquer the joy of my walk with God.  In the end, especially in this case, since the individuals who wronged me don’t even know me – and certainly don’t know that I am angry with them – the only person suffering over my anger and un-forgiveness is me!
3.    Pray.
When someone mistreats you, your flesh wants to get angry, dwell on the wrong, get revenge if possible, and feel sorry for yourself.  But Jesus said to “bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you” (Jn. 6:28).  This is not easy to do.  Because it is so contrary to our flesh, we can only do it with God’s power.  Thus, my next lesson:
4.    Be filled with the Spirit.
The only way I can do any of the above is by the power of the Holy Spirit.  God’s Word assures us that the moment we receive Christ we receive the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead (Rom. 8:9-11).  In other words, I have the very power of God working in me.  This means it is possible to live a supernatural life.  These commands in the Bible to do such things as forgive, rejoice, and pray are actually possible, but only possible if I am filled with the Holy Spirit.  Hard times are designed to push us toward greater dependence upon God.  God allows hard times into our lives to accomplish His purposes.  We may go through difficulties in this life that we will never understand this side of eternity.  But what we can know for sure is that God is working in us, that which is for our good and His glory.
5.    Testing of our Faith.
We don’t talk enough about this, but God’s Word speaks often of our faith being tested (Jas. 1:2-5; Rom. 5:3-5).  Many verses speak of God testing His people (1 Chron. 29:17; Ex. 20:20).  I believe God is sovereign over all of our circumstances.  I don’t believe anything happens that hasn’t first been sifted through His loving hands.  Therefore, I believe what has happened to me over the last few weeks is a direct test from the Lord.  Like tests we take in school (to determine our knowledge and application of the material), if we pass the test we advance, and if we fail, we either have to retake the test or we get demoted.  I desire to pass this test.  I need to prayerfully determine what God wants me to learn from this.  I need to be filled with the Spirit in order to pass this test.  I certainly don’t want to have to retake this test, that’s for sure!
6.    Be Wise.
One lesson for me in this is to be more careful in the future.  I am about a plant a new church in a rough part of Athens, Georgia.  Perhaps God wants to use this to toughen me up and make me wiser in my actions as I minister in this part of town.  Jesus said, “Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Mt. 10:16).  I know one thing: I will NEVER leave my computer in my truck again!  And now the ultimate lesson in all of this:
7.    Joy in God.
Whenever we go through tough times, it is a great opportunity to see if our joy is rooted in God Himself or our circumstances.  If I can have true joy in the Lord, amidst some really tough situations, then that means my life is coming from Jesus and not my circumstances.  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:6).  Many of us know Jesus as our way and truth, but how many of us really know Him as our life?  “Whom have I in heaven but Thee, and besides Thee, I desire nothing on earth.  My strength and my heart may fail, but you are the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:25-26).

I pray that one of these lessons from my “perfect storm” will somehow benefit you.  If that happens, it will make my pain a lot less severe.  Let’s all seek to live more totally sold out to Jesus, and get our life from Him, no matter what comes our way!!!!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

It Hurts So Good

“Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. “ John 12:24
We all need to die.  For salvation to occur, we must humble ourselves, admit our sin, repent of living for self, and trust fully in the work of Christ.  Justification requires death to self.
In the same way, sanctification (i.e. the process of becoming more and more like Jesus) requires death. For us to grow in Christ and increasingly yield to His will in our lives, we must die to pride and self-reliance.  2 Cor. 4:11 says, For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.”
Spurgeon once said, “When God wants to do an impossible task, He takes an impossible man and breaks him.” Brokenness is painful no matter what.  However, if we willingly yield to Christ, the brokenness process is a bit less painful.
“Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” Mt. 21:44
We can either “fall on this stone” of Jesus, and the brokenness process is less painful.  Or, we can be the one “on whom it falls” and thus be “crushed.”  The choice is ours.  Either way, God wants to break us, because being broken is the means by which we get be rebuilt according to His plan and purpose.  We can willfully submit to Him, or we can have Him crush us through circumstances that defeat our pride and self-dependence. 
I see this all the time in pastoral ministry.  If a person is willing to submit to God and walk in His will, there will still be pain, but it will be a lot less painful to be broken, because we are willingly yielding to Him.  On the other hand, if a person refuses to submit to God, goes his own way, lives a life of sin, then God will have to bring circumstances to bear, and often pain, to break this person of self-reliance. This is the person who is arrested for a DUI, has a spouse walk out on him for his abuse, hit rock bottom in his addiction, or “broken” through some other situation.
Never forget that God’s motivation in breaking us is love.  He loves us so much that He is committed to our development.  “The Lord disciplines those whom He loves… No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebr. 12:6, 11).  It hurts so good when we see the fruit that brokenness brings.
Finally, in humbling ourselves and going through the brokenness process, we are identifying with Jesus.  For He humbled himself to death, was broken for our sin, and in so doing accomplished eternal redemption. 
Is brokenness worth it?  You bet.  Does brokenness bring glory to God? Absolutely.  Be broken. Be like Jesus.  For God’s honor.