The Unwanted Irresistible Invitation

It was an invitation not many would respond to with enthusiasm.  And I can’t say that I blame them.

When we receive an invitation, we typically expect it to correspond with some sort of enjoyable event, with the occasional exception of three-hour obligatory graduation ceremonies and the like.

Invitations attract us with promises of birthday cake and ice cream, or backyard cookouts, or memorable dinners with wonderful friends.

They promise to entertain us or fill us or at the very least to bore us comfortably in a climate-controlled environment.

Apparently, the Apostle Paul never took the Creating Invitations People Want course.

His haunting summons was written from within the confines of a dank prison cell by the wavering light of a single candle. Hands roughened by honest work and hardship and stiffened by cold gripped the stylus as it scratched across his precious piece of parchment.

No gilded invitation on expensive stationery.  No return envelope with postage conveniently affixed and an elegant card with a box to indicate how many will attend.

The Unwanted, Irresistible Invitation

Paul’s invitation was fueled not by festivity but by the fire of a spirit ignited by the Holy Spirit and the passion of his calling.

It certainly offered no enticement, no promise of enjoyment or entertainment or great BBQ.

Yet his words echo through the centuries, calling not just Timothy, to whom he was writing, but also all of us, up higher.

 

He whispers fervently, chains momentarily forgotten in his zeal.

“…join with me in suffering for the Gospel by the power of God…” (2 Timothy 1:8b).

Excuse me, Paul, but what did you say?

Join you in SUFFERING?

What kind of invitation is THAT?

An unwanted one, perhaps.

Perhaps Timothy would rather have been invited to be an honored guest speaker at the Key Players in the Early Church Conference.

Notice also that Paul did not ask Timothy to post bail for him (although I’m pretty sure that wasn’t an option), to arrange all-night prayer vigils to storm the gates of Heaven for his release, or to cajole people to sign up and bring him hot meals in his captivity.

Paul was still very much on mission, even while in chains. He was seeking the kingdom first and continuing with the work God entrusted to him, although his own needs were dire and pressing.

He knew that his temporary circumstances – including location – were all part of the plan.

Instead of begging for release, he worked fervently where he was. Writing to the churches, mentoring Timothy, praying, praying, praying.

Calling Timothy up higher. Telling him to fan into flame the gift of God within him. Inviting him to come suffer alongside his mentor and spiritual father.

What kind of invitation is that??

An irresistible one, perhaps.

Deep inside each of us resides a longing to be significant. To do something that has great worth and value, and to somehow enlarge the scope of our little lives.  We yearn to participate in something grand and sweeping that is larger than ourselves.

To be caught up in a story of greatness and heroism, and discover that we, too, are heroic and can make worthy sacrifices for the good of others.

The Unwanted, Irresistible Invitation

There’s just one problem with all of that.

It comes with a price tag.

It involves loving and serving and those typically involve things like inconvenience and hassle and pain.

It means dying to our own agenda, and coming up higher.  Living God’s agenda – to seek and save the lost, and to minister to the hurting and helpless.

It means suffering.  Just ask Jesus.

Irresistible?  Absolutely.  Because significance is worth far more than comfort.

 

We cannot simultaneously seek first our own comfort and God’s Kingdom. Click To Tweet

 

 

When we grab hold of that truth, we begin to realize that comfort is actually the more costly item.  It can cost us the very existence we were made for and silently crave.

Is God calling you to a higher standard of kingdom living today? Is He asking you to lay something down so that you can take up your cross and follow Him?

Me, too.  I want to live a no-regrets life, fully and joyfully, and accept the unwanted, irresistible invitation.

Will you join me?

“Dear Jesus, I’m so thankful that You didn’t seek to live a comfortable existence here on earth.  Thank You for being willing to take up Your Cross and die in my place.  I long to follow You and live a life rich with significance.  Help me to see others through Your eyes and to courageously accept the invitation to take up my cross and follow You by loving and serving those You bring across my path. I commit today to seek Your kingdom above my comfort.  I accept Your invitation.  Please use my life for Your glory. Amen.”

With faith, hope, and love

The Forgiveness Factor – Is It Working For You or Against You?

It was only a documentary. I wasn’t prepared for the gut-wrenching trauma. I hadn’t even brought any tissue, for Heaven’s sake. But sitting in the theater with a friend, watching the film “Nefarious”, had reduced me to a state of crying and shaking.

We wanted to be better informed about the scourge of human trafficking in our city and understand how we could join the battle against it. We knew it wouldn’t be easy to watch, and we were not there to be entertained, but I never expected the hatred that washed over me in tsunami-force waves as I watched the men on the screen portraying the captors, torturers, abusers, and sellers of the women they enslaved.

All the Scriptures I had ever learned about forgiveness seemed a cruel joke in the face of such twisted and violent evil. Worse than whistling in the dark, the thought of forgiveness seemed to make a hollow mockery of the shattering pain and trauma these women and girls (and sometimes boys) experience.

By the time the documentary was halfway over, I was wishing to be anywhere BUT there and had started to think up fitting punishments for those responsible for such suffering. My sense of justice longed to see them cowering in fear and experiencing a hefty dose of what they so remorselessly dished out.

Thankfully, the tone of the The Forgiveness Factordocumentary shifted from portraying the utter despair of the victims whose stories were being shared, to one of incredible hope as one by one, these women told how Jesus had met them in the pit they were trapped in, loved them, healed them, and restored their lives.

Then I got the biggest surprise of my life.

They interviewed one of the former captors.

He wept openly as he talked about the pain and brokenness of his life that drove him to be who he was, and then he talked of Jesus, who radically forgave and saved him and gave his life wholeness and meaning.

This wretched, unspeakably evil excuse for a human (in my generous opinion) was also a victim of evil and depravity, and Jesus loved him. Now he is part of the solution, humbly and gratefully.

That was when I realized how extravagant the forgiveness of God truly is.

I only THOUGHT I was crying before.

Getting a revelation of the love of God – it’s breadth and depth and height – expressed through His willingness to forgive, left me completely undone.

The Forgiveness Factor

Isn’t it revealing of the smallness we are prone to, that God is so willing to forgive, and we are so reluctant? The former captor’s sins didn’t send ME to the cross, yet I would have demanded justice. But when it is I who have failed, I cry for mercy. Perhaps expect it.

That brings us to what I call The Forgiveness Factor, and the two top reasons we don’t want to forgive.

The first reason we don’t want to forgive other is that we don’t realize how much we personally have already been forgiven.

Sin separates us from a holy God, and our sins – my sins – separated me from God just as much as the sins of the former human trafficker in the film Nefarious.

The Forgiveness Factor

No, I probably haven’t hurt anyone as much as he had, and hopefully, I have never made anyone’s life a living hell, but the standard isn’t comparative. It’s not a question of “better than” and “worse than”. It’s a yes or no question.

Q: Have I ever sinned?

A: Yes.

Result: Separation from holiness.

It took the cross to save me just as much as it took the cross to save Mr. Nefarious.

When I see my need as cavernous, and the gift I received as extravagant, I am more willing to offer forgiveness to others.

The second reason we so dislike letting go of the crimes committed against us is that we confuse our identity with the Supreme Court Chief Justice. If that were the case and we forgive, the crime goes unpunished. Unthinkable!  Irresponsible! Unjust!

There’s just one problem with that. God has not abdicated His throne. There will come a day when all people will stand before Him, and answer for their actions. My impatience doesn’t increase my importance in this scenario. No one made me the Ancient of Days this morning.
So we stew and fret and refuse to forgive because attempting to extract our pound of flesh seems to at least ensure that there is some measure of justice.

You might have heard the profound statement that living with unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.

Today is a good day to stop drinking poison.

The Forgiveness Factor is revealed by Jesus in a parable that probably isn’t one of His more popular blog posts.

Matthew 18 is the home of this compelling narrative of the unmerciful servant. You know the one – the story of the king who wanted to settle his accounts and collect all the money owed him. He demanded repayment from a man who owed him ten thousand talents, and when the man was unable to pay, ordered that he, his wife, children, and possessions be sold to repay the debt. The man fell to his knees and begged for more time, promising to pay back all he owed. The king had pity and canceled his debt, freeing him to go.

The servant whose debt had just been canceled left this life-changing encounter, saw a fellow servant who owed him a hundred denarii, and started to choke him, demanding repayment. Just like he had, the man fell to his knees and begged for more time. Incredibly, the unmerciful servant refused and had him thrown into prison until the debt could be repaid.

The Forgiveness FactorWhen the king heard of this outrage of injustice, he turned the wicked servant over to the torturers until he should pay back all he owed.

The amazing thing about this parable is the amounts mentioned. According to several commentaries, the wicked servant who initially had his debt canceled owed the equivalent to 160,000 YEARS of wages, with nothing taken out for living expenses.

 

That is the picture of the staggering burden of the debt of our sin in the eyes of God. Absolutely no hope of repayment.

The second servant owed the first one the equivalent of about 3 month’s wages. Significant, and may require some scrimping and saving, but repayment would definitely be possible.

That is the picture Jesus gives of the offenses toward us that require forgiveness.

The take-away: Jesus has canceled my impossible, staggering debt, and I should joyfully go out and forgive others the small (in comparison) debts they owe me.

Verse 35 says unless we do, we are volunteering for God to treat us like the king in the parable treated the wicked servant.

We must forgive. That’s the Forgiveness Factor. We have to give it to receive it. We give it away to keep what we need. And it’s okay to forgive simply because we know we need to be forgiven ourselves.

Is the Forgiveness Factor working for you today, or against you?

Is there someone you need to release to the Ancient of Days so that your life can be cleansed from the toxins of unforgiveness, and so that you can live forgiven?

I know it can be excruciating. Surgery with no anesthesia.

BUT…as I saw in Nefarious, forgiveness is transformational. When we choose to stop drinking poison, the rank, stagnant pool of a poisoned soul is washed clean by the rushing flow of pure Living Water. We are released from the debtor’s prison and the torturer to live freely and fully the life that God designed us for.

Extending forgiveness to someone else may be the best thing we ever do for ourselves.

Are you struggling with unforgiveness today?

If so, this prayer is for you.

“Gracious, forgiving Father, thank you that You are aware of every injustice we have ever suffered and that You, not we, are responsible for seeing justice done. In you, justice and mercy are perfectly balanced, and we ourselves are so often in need of Your mercy. Please give us the grace to extend forgiveness to those we have tried to poison. Heal us from the toxins of unforgiveness, and set us free to experience Your forgiveness in our own lives. Jesus, You said that if we love You, we will obey You, and You say we must forgive. Empower us to truly love You and to choose Your excellent ways over our own selfish and vindictive tendencies. We want to live and love like You.”

With faith, hope, and love,

 

People Who Preferred Pigs to the Power of God, and What Happened to Them

I have always thought it was the most tragic verse in Scripture.

How could anyone see the extravagant, transforming power of God, and then instead of thanking Him, or asking Him for more, ask Him to go away?

Yet In Mark chapter 5, we see that exact thing happen.

Our story actually begins at the end of Mark 4 with Jesus and His disciples in a boat, making what was surely expected to be an uneventful crossing to the other side of the lake. Jesus had just finished teaching crowds of people, and now He had an appointment across the lake. Exhausted from preaching and ministering, He fell asleep in the boat. The book of Mark tells us that a “furious squall” came up, so violent that the disciples thought they were going to drown.

You know the story – Jesus spoke to the raging storm and it immediately ceased. End of that section with the heading “Jesus Calms the Storm” in many Bibles.

Enter Mark 5, and a new section heading, “The Healing of a Demon-Possessed Man”. Different story, right?  Maybe not!  One of the commentaries I read states that many believe the stories are linked, and the storm had demonic origin, in an attempt to keep Jesus out of the region He was about to enter, and from the appointment He was on His way to keep.

How silly. No one can whip up a storm so powerful that it can keep out the Creator of the wind and waves. If Jesus is coming to deliver you from darkness, NOTHING can keep Him from reaching you.

People Who Preferred Pigs to the Power of God

But back to the narrative – Jesus and His disciples made it across the lake in spite of the storm and arrived in the region of the Gerasenes. They had hardly gotten both feet on shore and the boat dragged up onto the ground when they were confronted by the un-welcome committee, a notorious and violent demon-possessed man.

This man had more problems than just one demon, which would have been bad enough. The spokesman demon told Jesus they were called “Legion” because there were many of them.

A little research on Roman legions shows that depending on when in the 1st century you’re asking, a legion was from about 3,600 to 6,000 men. Um, that’s a lot of demons.

The many demons who made their home in this man gave him superhuman strength, and no one was able to restrain him, even with chains. Trapped in his inner world of torment, he would cry out night and day and cut himself with sharp rocks. Can you imagine living in that hell? Or imagine that being your son, brother, or husband?

This man’s misery was not cloistered away in some remote, hermit-like existence, either. He was loud, he was in a public place, and he was often the recipient of group action by the people of the area who knew SOMETHING needed to be done. While surely well-intentioned, their very best, united efforts were completely impotent in the face of such evil and torment.

They faced a truth we are still learning today.Evil can’t be chained from without; evil can only be changed from within.

 

Evil can’t be chained from without; evil can only be changed from within. Click To Tweet

 

Enter Jesus and His followers.

The demon gang inside the man was terrified when they saw Him walking up from the lake.

Oh yes, they knew Him.

We humans are the slow ones; in the spirit realm, there is never any question about the identity and authority of the Son of God.

The demons begged Jesus not to torment them before their time and requested to be sent into a nearby herd of pigs instead of being sent out of the region. Their territory.

Interestingly, Jesus agreed. He knew their time was short, and He will be dealing with them later.

People Who Preferred Pigs to the Power of GodThe legion of demons left the man, entered the herd of pigs, and the very unhappy pigs rushed down a steep slope into the lake and drowned.

The now unemployed, goggle-eyed swineherds ran off to instant message everyone they knew, and the incredible power encounter was broadcast throughout the area at the speed of light.

NOW there’s going to be a ruckus. Now you’re messing with the economy, Jesus. Those pigs were someone’s retirement fund, maybe.

By the time the crowd gathered to see for themselves what in the world was going on and find out who’s going to pay for all those pigs, the formerly demon possessed man was seated, clothed, and in his right mind.

The crowd saw him, Mark tells us, and was afraid.

People Who Preferred Pigs to the Power of God

Of all the reactions they could have had, fear would be a few bullet points down on the list of what I would have expected.

Jesus, in a display of His love, compassion, and power, freed this man from his torment and suffering, and simultaneously rid the area of arguably its biggest problem. He demonstrated His authority over evil – even multiplied evil in large quantity. He transformed someone’s life and delivered him from a living hell.

And the people were afraid.

Then, instead of taking their fear to Jesus, they pleaded with Him to leave their region.

They would rather have their pigs.

My heart breaks when I read that.

My Jesus, who would have done so much to set other people free from the ravages of sin and sickness, was begged to go away. He came that they might have abundant life, and they slammed the door in His face as though He was peddling unwanted wares door to door.

Our friend, the newly delivered man, begged Jesus to be able to accompany Him and His disciples when they leave.

In an act of supreme grace and unconditional love, Jesus denied his request. Why? Because Jesus knew the people of that region needed Him, and He planted that man there as a missionary to share what God had done for him.

What love.  He didn’t reject the people who rejected Him.  He left someone there they might accept with the message of His power and love.

Even when we show a preference for pigs, Jesus still works on our behalf.

It makes me wonder, what pigs do I prefer over the confrontational power of God that upsets my status quo?

When Jesus tells me to repent to someone, do I prefer the pig of pride?

When Jesus tells me to give extravagantly, do I prefer the pig of greed?

When Jesus tells me to walk away from a sin so He can set me free from its grip, do I prefer the pig of addiction?

Do I clutch my tattered rags of impotent human effort about me and scowlingly cross my arms to the interfering invitation to abundant life, because I am afraid?

What, if anything, do I have to lose?

Today, I don’t want to settle for even a good thing at the expense of a God thing.

I just want more of Him, even if it messes with the status quo of my life.

What about you? Have you at times experienced a preference for pigs over the power of God? Leave a comment if you’d like toPeople Who Preferred Pigs to the Power of God and What Happened To Them share your thoughts – I would love to hear them.

If you, like me, want to embrace the messy, unpredictable, confrontational power of God that will deliver us from our preference for pigs, would you pray with me?

“Dear Father, today we want more of You. Give us eyes to see where we are preferring our pet pigs of sin and brokenness, and give us the courage to evict them. Oh God, come sweeping into our lives in a torrent of grace and set us free from the things that keep us from fully embracing You. Free us to know You, to love You, and to serve You in an overflow of joy and gratitude. Nothing is worth holding on to that keeps us separated from You.”

Bacon, anyone? 😉

With faith, hope, and love,

Your Response to the Persecution of Christians: How to be Helpful and Effective

You may not hear about it much on the mainstream news channels. Your church may not even be talking about it.

If you live in America or another affluent Western nation, it’s all too easy to live a life of comfort, insulated from the suffering that Christians face in places where it costs something to follow Christ.

Whether we realize it or not, disciples of Jesus are being slaughtered, daily.

These are men, women, boys, and girls like us. Like our family members. They have names and faces and dreams for their future, just like we do.

I understand – the burden of knowing, coupled with the feeling of total helplessness, can be debilitating. It can tempt us to stick our fingers in our ears or to sing more loudly so we can’t hear the train going by.

But the good news is, you CAN make a difference.

There are specific ways we can respond that will move us from paralyzed horror to effective involvement. We do not have to be plagued by guilt, overwhelmed by helplessness, or live with our heads in the sand. We can actively do our part with a Biblical and helpful response.

Your Response to the Persecution of Christians

Your Response to the Persecution of Christians: How to be Helpful and Effective

 

1. NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF PRAYER.

Never, never, never. Please, pray for the persecuted church daily. Make it a habit.

Pray for every individual being affected by persecution, that their faith will not fail. Jesus prayed that exact prayer for Peter (Luke 22:32, NIV), and we can rest assured that He is also praying that for His persecuted church. Joining our will to His and praying His heart for these precious people is powerful!

Pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the areas of persecution and that the Gospel would change hearts and lives.

Pray for laborers to be raised up and equipped to be effective workers in those harvest fields, full of the power and presence of God.

The fervent prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective (James 5:16), and if you belong to Christ, you are made righteous by Him!

 

Your Response to the Persecution of Christians2. MAKE IT PERSONAL, BUT DON’T MAKE IT ABOUT YOU.

Make it personal by becoming aware of actual stories of individuals and families, not just statistics.  Last night my daughter and I were able to deliver food from our church food pantry to a Syrian refugee family of 9.  These precious people overwhelmed us with kindness and gratitude and even tried to feed us dinner!  The factual “Syrian refugee family of 9 needs food delivery” was helpful, but being in their living room, seeing the crowded conditions in which they live, having our hands grabbed and cheeks kissed by the old crippled grandma with gratitude shining in her eyes moved us more than facts on paper ever could have.

There are ways we can make the statistics more personal.  Sign up to receive the prayer requests for individuals and families from Voice of the Martyrs or Open Doors. Print them out and keep them in your Bible, praying over them throughout the week. Put them in a jar on the dinner table and pull one out at each meal and pray together as a family.

 

Becoming more aware is crucial, but the flip side of awareness can paralyze us if we aren’t careful: don’t fall into the guilt trap.

A common reaction (ask me how I know) to hearing stories of persecution is to feel guilty for being happy/affluent/not persecuted ourselves.

This response needs an overhaul fo these reasons:

  • It makes it about me and my feelings
  • It neglects the sovereignty of God who has placed people where they are for His purposes.
  • Suffering is USED by God but is not His intended design for mankind that I should somehow aspire to. The Garden of Eden was His intended design. Heaven is His intended design. We live in the in-between, and our time of suffering may come. Until then, we do not need to feel guilty for living the lives God has granted us if we are using our time, treasure, and talent for the advancement of His kingdom.

3. EMBRACE THE THEOLOGY OF SUFFERING.

If you struggle, as we all do at times, with the reality of suffering vs. The goodness of God, read up on suffering in the Word and grow your faith. Suffering is a result of sin and living in a very broken world, but Emmanuel, God with Us, is present in every moment, and Heaven is waiting. The eyes of faith will see that The Good Shepherd does not abandon His sheep when they need Him the most, no matter what it may look like in the natural. Things are wrapping up down here, and He is preparing for an eternity of showering His abundant love and kindness on His children.  That glorious reality will make everything experienced in this sin-sick world seem fleeting and inconsequential.

 

4. BRING AWARENESS TO YOUR CIRCLES OF INFLUENCE.

Friends, family, church and small groups – take up an offering for the persecuted church, share prayer requests, share links to places like VOM and Open Doors, share this post, and get the news out that an individual CAN make a difference.

 

5. GIVE.

Invest in one of the ministries working on the front lines, supporting the families of martyrs and aiding those affected by persecution. Perhaps, after all, this is why we who are living in the affluent West have been blessed with the resources we have. I know many of you do this already, and my heart sings with gratitude in response to your commitment!Your Response to the Persecution of Christians

 

If I get a bad headache, I immediately grab my go-to bottle of peppermint oil. If that doesn’t do the trick, the ibuprofen may come out next, or a cup of coffee…but I make a concerted effort to alleviate the pain. The Bible says if one part of the Body of Christ suffers, we all suffer. Part of our body is suffering.

What will you do today to bring the comfort and Kingdom of God into their pain?

With faith, hope, and love,

PS – for even more great resources and ideas, you may want to check out the following article:

http://www.christianheadlines.com/news/5-ways-you-can-help-persecuted-christians.html

 

Guest Posting Today!

The Beautiful Journey is guest posting today over at Joanna Mayes’ site, http://www.christianfreedom.life/!  A giant “thank you” to Joanna for the privilege of hanging out over there with her friends, and a warm welcome to any who migrate over to The Beautiful Journey to visit us over here!  Blessings to you today, and may God use your time here to strengthen, bless, and encourage you on your own beautiful journey!