Asking the Wrong Question

“You’re asking the wrong question.”

It just popped into my head the other morning. No particular context that I remember. Just one of those random thoughts. But for days it just wouldn’t go away.

It sounded like an important insight, but only if it had a context. Asking who the wrong question? Wrong question about what? Questions

Was this a prompt from God, or just something some brain cell picked up from the radio?  Either way, it stuck in my head worse than Disney’s “It’s a Small World”. (Sorry if bringing that to mind ruins your day.)

Finally, this morning, it connected. I was sitting at a breakfast meeting listening to Skye Jethani talk about “The Idol of Effectiveness”.

His premise was that we’ve wrongly applied an American cultural metric to our spiritual life: Viewing the effectiveness of what we do for God as an indicator of a healthy relationship with God. It stems from the pagan belief that we are created to serve the gods (or God) and meet their needs. But our God does not need us at all.

Jesus says in Matthew 7:21-23 that some who call Him, “Lord, Lord” (the repetition expressing deep acknowledgement of His Lordship) are not part of His Kingdom.  In fact, it says many who do “mighty works”, even miracles, in His name will be told, “depart from me, I never knew you.”  How God chooses to use us (or donkeys, or even rocks) is not evidence of our relationship with Him.

Although I still need to ponder this further, it shed light on some things perplexing me about my own spiritual condition lately. I’ve been asking the wrong question, trying to assess my relationship with God by the works I perform.

Like the culture around us, we get caught up focusing on trying to prove our own worth. But thinking our worth comes from anything we do for God elevates and distorts our own importance. God created us to love us, not to use us.  Likewise, God wants us to love Him, not just to use Him to meet our needs.  Every time God works it’s in spite of us, not because of us. He doesn’t need us, He wants us — our presence, not our efforts.

In no way does this suggest we should be couch potatoes doing nothing for God.  The point is that our activities for God are nothing more than our proper response to His love for us.  They are not — as we tend to make them — the source of our identity in Christ. They do not increase our value to Him.  Bigger is only better if God calls you to bigger.

God did not call us to change the world — that’s His job. We are called to love Him and love others — both of which do require action, by the way. But if God calls me to a little task, success is doing that little task faithfully, not turning it into something bigger so I feel important.

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Choices

I’ve been thinking a lot about choices lately. Not so much  the “big” choices in life: Who do I marry? Do I take that job? Should I buy that house? We usually put a lot of thought and prayer into those choices, seeking counsel from those we trust.

But what about the little choices? The kind we make dozens, even hundreds of times a day. Our responses to these are habit, they reflect our heart — and they change our heart. I’m convinced the accumulation of these little choices has a bigger impact on our lives than the few really big ones.

God created us with a free will, i.e. the ability to make decisions — to choose. Consider, what is love but the choice to put someone else’s interests ahead of our own.  What is worship but the choice to do what pleases God rather than what pleases me. In giving us the ability to make choices, God delegated to us a limited ability to demonstrate His character in us by choosing to care about someone other than ourselves.

We also know that God considers the motivations of our hearts as more important than our actions. Our actions matter, but only because they reflect what’s in our heart. Consider Jeremiah 17:10:

“I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.

God looks at our hearts and minds to determine how he will reward our deeds. Or 1 Samuel 16:7b:

For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.

Again, it’s our heart, not the things we see that God is paying attention to.  So how do we make our hearts pleasing to God?

We start making choices that please Him.  As we exercise our free-will muscle to make loving, worshipful choices instead of self-centered choices, that muscle gets stronger in its ability to please God.

Consider these familiar scriptures:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.    Philippians 2:3-4 (ESV)

Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.     1 Corinthians 10:24 (ESV)

You can also look up 1 John 3:16-18 and Matthew 16:24 to see the theme continue.

When does God expect us to apply these biblical instructions? Only in our occasional big choices, or in the multiple-times-a-day choices?

So here’s the question I’ve been challenging myself with:

If I was a fanatic about considering others more important than myself, what would I do differently everyday?

Here are just a few answers:

  • Leave the closest parking space for someone else
  • Show grace when others err
  • Don’t recline the airplane seat into the person behind me
  • Give others the best seats
  • Tip big

Making those kinds of choices multiple times a day changes us.

Post your answers to that challenge here…

Which Language Do You Speak Most?

For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.

Matthew 12;34b (NASB)

Our choice of words makes a difference. Sure, we use words to influence others, but I’m more interested at the moment in what our words reveal about us and how we may be influenced by our own words. Consider these three phrases:

I want to… This is the language of self-centeredness. It’s all about me. My desires may be good, or they may be bad. It doesn’t matter, they’re mine. And I intend to satisfy them.

I need to… This is the language of obligation. Again, the source of that obligation may be good or it may be bad. It could be rooted in a healthy sense of responsibility, or in fear, or in selfish ambition, or in legalism.

I choose to… This is the language of love…or not.  Love, at it’s core, is an act of the will – a continuous set of decisions we make.  If God had not given us a free will, it would be impossible for us to love. When our choices are motivated by the best interest of others, we demonstrate love. When motivated by our self-interest, it’s selfishness. God equipped us to choose.

I can choose to do what I want to do, and if I have been transformed to desire the things that please God, fulfilling my desires is a good thing.

I can choose to do what I need to do, and if my needs are aligned with loving God and loving others, with faith that He will take care of me (Matthew 6), then meeting my obligations is a good thing.

Perhaps saying “I choose” more than “I want” or “I need” would make me more aware of the motivation behind my choices. The synergy between heart and mouth might be a powerful tool in the transformation from selfishness to love.

I don’t want to, but I choose to.  I don’t need to, but I choose to.  I choose acts of love, acts of worship.

The Promises of God We Don’t Want

We love to claim God’s promises in scripture — at least some of them. Some we prefer not to think about.

Some promises — we might call them “consequences” — are promises that come as the result of our bad choices.

This topic comes to mind because of Friday’s Executive Order by the President stopping the refugee program for 120 days and severely crippling it thereafter.

Never mind that America is built on immigration; or that most economists say immigration is good for our economy; or that refugees have hadfence-978138_1280 little to do with domestic terrorism. It’s true that three Americans have been killed by refugee terrorists — they were from Cuba back in the 1970s, before the Refugee Act of 1980 created systematic entry procedures. Targeting refugees, which the State Department already describes as the “most highly scrutinized” and “most vigorously vetted” path to entering the US, is like fixing a dripping faucet while a broken pipe pours gallons of water into your kitchen.

But let’s assume everything in that last paragraph is wrong. If Christians are going to claim the Bible as the ultimate authority on how we are to live our lives, none of that is as important as the teachings of scripture.

What does the Bible teach about immigration and refugees in particular? A 2015 Lifeway Research survey determined that only 12% of Evangelical Christians consider scripture to be the primary influence on their view of immigration.

I can make a Biblical case for protecting our country and our families. But that isn’t a strong theme in scripture. It’s a stronger theme that God will defend those who are committed to His purposes. One of the strongest of those purposes is care for the most vulnerable (widows, orphans, homeless, and foreigners) and especially those who are victims of injustice — e.g. refugees.

In case this isn’t clear, refugees are those who have left their home country because of “a credible fear of persecution based on race, religion, political opinion, national origin, or social group.” You’re not a refugee because you want to find a better place to make a living, or because there was an earthquake in your home country. You are a refugee because of a credible fear of injustice.

Here are just a few of the hundreds of verses that apply to refugees:

Deut 10:19 Love them
Deut 14:28-29 Use tithes to bless them
Deut 31:11-12 Assemble with them to listen to God’s Word
Deut 16:11 Celebrate God’s blessings with them
Deut 24:19-20 Take care of their physical needs
Deut 27:19 Cursed is he who distorts the justice due them
Eze 22:29-31 God’s wrath on those who wrong them
Zech 7:10-13 God won’t listen to those who oppress them
Mal 3:5 God’s swift judgment against those who turn them aside
Isa 58 promises God’s blessing when we stop seeking our own pleasure to bring them into our own homes and care for them.

So we get to choose — individually and as a nation — which promises of God we want to experience.

God is faithful to deliver on His promises.  Like it or not.

Hurricane Matthew Relief Trip Report

Our team of six Hope Force International (HFI) staff and reservists formed the initial response team to Hurricane Matthew. We met in Nashville and drove our equipment to Fayetteville, NC. The original plan was to head to Florida, but as Hurricane Matthew made its trip up the coast, it became apparent that we could do the most good in North Carolina. Additional reservists and volunteers joined us in the following days.
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Through a string of relationships (which is how most things get done!), we connected with city officials in Lumberton, NC. They were thrilled to have us involved, but we had to wait for the water to recede before we could get into the area to begin work. So we setup our initial base of operations in an empty house near Fayetteville (it was up for sale, owned by a friend of a friend…). 14670860_1187053201340489_7850694225780063080_nWe worked on eight homes in the Fayetteville area while waiting five days for the water level to go down in Lumberton.

Some of the homes in Fayetteville were owned by widows that we connected with through local churches. Fort Bragg is near Fayetteville, so we also had the privilege of helping the families of some military men stationed there.
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Lumberton is a city of about 21,000 people. It is an economically challenged area, and has been recognized as the “most dangerous city in NC”, “4th most dangerous city in the US”, home of the “worst NC drivers” (fatalities/capita), and the “6th worst place in NC to get a job”. Nevertheless, the city officials we engaged with were impressive, dedicated, hard working, caring people. They were excited to have HFI engaged as much for the emotional & spiritual care we brought as for the physical labor we provided. During the time I was there, HFI brought in three chaplains in response to the city’s requests for help.

Everyone we met in Lumberton defied the city’s negative reputation.

Woody’s a good example. When the levee was breached and water flooded into his neighborhood, sandWoody spent the night making trips into his neighborhood in a boat rescuing those who couldn’t get out. His own home was badly damaged and will require a lot of work to repair. Decades of remodels left multiple layers of drywall and paneling, and layers of flooring upon flooring – and the flood waters settled between each of those layers. It all needed to be removed so his home could dry out properly.

The hardest part of disaster relief deployments is having to leave knowing there’s still so much work to be done. It will be months or even years before some of these people recover from the physical and emotional trauma. It is our “terrible privilege” to be able to engage with a few and do what we wish we could do for all. But our belief and prayer is that some of those we meet will find the source of peace and joy in Christ that far surpasses the losses they’ve experienced.

Thank you for your prayers and financial support that made this effort possible. You can continue to support Hope Force International at http://www.hopeforce.org.

Responding to Hurricane Matthew

If this seems like déjà vu, it was only seven weeks ago that I posted something similar as I prepared to leave for Louisiana.  It seems that disasters don’t submit themselves to our scheduling preferences…

matthew_mapHope Force International has asked me to join their initial assessment team in preparation for sending response teams to the East Coast.  Our initial connection is with a partner near Orlando, but we may move up the coast from there depending on the need and connections.  As of this writing, the deadly storm is just moving away from Florida as it moves up the coast of Georgia and the Carolinas.  So it’s still too soon to know where the worst damage will be and how bad it is. But this storm has left hundreds dead in Haiti and other Caribbean islands and has killed at least four in Florida so far.  About one million Floridians are without power.

Tomorrow morning I’ll fly to Nashville where I’ll join Hope Force staff to haul our tool trailer to Florida. I’ll be on the ground there, doing whatever needs done until I fly home on October 20.

I welcome your partnership in this ministry.  Here are a few things you can be praying for:

  • That beyond the physical repairs, we would be effective at bringing the message of hope, encouragement, and love to the survivors of this devastation.  Our work is more about people than it is about property.
  • Hope Force will keep their response effort going as long as three things are true: 1) the need continues; 2) funding is available; and 3) manpower is available.  The increased rate of disasters has drained the availability of Hope Force’s reservists in recent months.
  • Wisdom and safety for all involved.

I was incredibly blessed by the outpouring of support for my Louisiana trip.  Not everyone can be boots on the ground, but those of us who can couldn’t do it without the support of others who have the heart to pray and give towards this effort. The excess funds beyond my personal expenses go to Hope Force to help with the relief efforts.  You can provide financial support for me and the relief work by check or online through my church at https://graceorange.churchcenteronline.com/giving/donations. Select “3100 Hope Force Int’l Disaster Response – AW” in the “To” box.

A NOTE FROM GRACE CHURCH OF ORANGE:   We appreciate your financial support of our short-term mission projects.  Please make your check payable to Grace Church of Orange and send it to 2201 E. Fairhaven Ave. Orange, CA 92869.  On the memo line of your check, please specify that your donation is for HFI Disaster Response. Be aware that IRS regulations do not permit tax deductible donations for specific individuals, so indicating a person’s name may affect the deductibility of your donations.  (Please check with your tax advisor.)  If you would like for the person to know about your donation, you may include a note with your name on it.  If for any reason your donation is not needed for this project, (such as more funds received beyond what is needed), it will be applied to other missions efforts.  If you give $250 or more you will receive a statement of your donations in January of the following year.  Please contact the church office at 714-633-8867 if you have any questions.

Thank you for enabling me to represent you to those in need!

 

Kingdom Building – Flooding Louisiana (with God’s Love)

It was arguably the worst house we’d been in all week – not that it lacked for competition! Over two weeks since the floodwaters had risen several feet up the walls in this home, closet floors were still stacked full of soggy clothing. Pots of grease and cooked food stood in pots on the stove. Piles of personal belongings awaited triage in several rooms.

We were getting used to the rats nests behind the drywall in these houses, but the ammonia smell (not from cleaning products) Rat debriswas overwhelming as we tore up the kitchen floor.

God knew what we needed to get us through that day…

Our devotional that morning centered on building God’s Kingdom. A kingdom is a territory under control of a king. God, for the purpose of providing a greater way to reveal His glory, has temporarily relinquished control of some “territory” to the enemy. That provides us with the opportunity to reclaim some of that territory for the Kingdom of God.

Luke 17:21 tells us that, “the kingdom of God is within you.” The territory we’re reclaiming is in our hearts – the hearts of those we serve, those we serve with, and our own.

Truth and love are the weapons we use in this battle. 1 Peter 1:22 tells us, “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart”

There’s an old story about a man walking down the sidewalk in a big city. He saw a construction project across the street. As he watched the work, his curiosity grew about what they were building. So he walked across the street to where a man with a brick in one hand and a trowel in the other was working. “What are you doing?” the man asked. Without looking up, the worker grumbled back, “I’m laying brick, what does it look like?” This was an accurate answer, but not what the man was looking for.

So he walked down the street until he found another bricklayer and asked, “What are you doing?” The worker glanced up and answered, “I’m just earning a paycheck.” Another accurate, but not particularly useful answer.

He approached a third bricklayer and again asked, “What are you doing?” This worker looked the man in the eye and with great pride replied, “I’m building a cathedral!”

The point is that our perspective matters. Yes, it’s true that we’re tearing out drywall and wet insulation, pulling nails, hauling out debris, and other laborious tasks. We’re also listening to, encouraging, and helping people. And there’s a sense that we get a “paycheck” — the reward of feeling good about being a blessing to these flood survivors.

But the endurance to make it through a job like this one required us to draw strength from a higher motivation:  We’re using the truth and love of Jesus Christ to win back “territory” from the enemy for the Kingdom of God. That passion overcomes seemingly insurmountable obstacles!