Here, Sheepy, Sheepy!

Cherry Blossom Overlook
Cherry Blossom Overlook painted by my daughter.

Does God seem far away? Unreachable? Silent? Do you feel alone? As I worked on my summer Bible study, Finding I Am, by Lysa TerKeurst the other day I was struck by the truth written on page 71. The day’s study reflected on Jesus as the Good Shepherd and His care of His flock. We took a deeper look at sheep and the similarities we have with these animals. One of the things Lysa wrote about was how quickly we, like sheep, can go astray. It isn’t so much that God leaves us (in fact, His word tells us that He will never leave us!), but that we, like sheep, wander off one slow step at a time. We get busy, put off reading our Bible, skip a week of Bible study class, and slowly slip quietly away. We start exiting church immediately after service ends instead of engaging in fellowship like we used to. We make excuses and miss attending church for several weeks. We slowly lose contact with our Christian friends. Like sheep eating grass who wander off, unaware of where their hoof steps are taking them, our own progression of drifting away from the Savior can be subtle.

Sheep who have wandered off are isolated. They’ve feasted, following their appetite, taking one slow step after another, then looked up from their grazing only to realize the Shepherd is no where in sight. They don’t realize, however, that it’s not the Shepherd who left them, but they who have left the Shepherd. What about you, Friend? Have you found yourself alone? Do you look about wondering how to got to where you are? Are you lost?

If you find yourself isolated for various reasons, whether intentionally or unintentionally, consider whether you might have wandered off. Take heart. You belong to Christ. He is calling for you. Though you may have lost your way, He knows the way you take.

Here is the good news: The Shepherd is looking for you! Call out to Him. Listen for His voice. He is calling. Open your Bible and read it. Join the Bible study. Go to church this Sunday. Call the friend you haven’t talked to in a while. Share your struggle with a fellow Christian. Confess that sin to Jesus and then ask a friend to help keep you accountable. Reach out and ask for prayer from the church body. Sheep are not solitary animals. They aren’t meant to go it alone. They were designed to be in community, to be part of a fold, a flock. We, too, were not designed to be alone. Listen for the voice of the Shepherd and allow Him to bring you back to fellowship. He will carry you and lead you if you let Him. He is the Good Shepherd.

Blessings,

Angie

 

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Are you unaware?

I’ve been studying spiritual gifts for the past several months. I’ve learned much these last 11 lessons about spiritual gifts: what they are, their purpose, and how to use them. But this last lesson, lesson 12, is a bit different and, at first glance, would seem not to fit. It is a lesson on love. What does love have to do with spiritual gifts?

It turns out, it has everything to do with it.

As I learned many weeks ago, the spiritual gifts can be classified into two main categories: speaking and serving. I know that I have been given the gift of mercy (serving) and the gifts of prophecy and teaching (speaking). It’s been eye-opening to study these gifts in depth. It’s been convicting and humbling. In 1st Corinthians, chapter 12 the apostle Paul tells believers in Jesus Christ not to be ignorant regarding these gifts. I daresay there are many within the body of Christ who are still unaware of their gifts, and many others who are misinformed regarding them. I would also say there are even some who may know they possess a particular gift, but aren’t using it.

Spiritual gifts are given by the Holy Spirit. Paul addresses the problem of some members exalting certain gifts above others and a demeaning of the gifts. People in the church had a wrong evaluation of spiritual gifts. I contend that some churches today have the same issue. We need to understand that these gifts are given as the Spirit wills, and the Lord distributes them in a variety of ways. The church body is benefitted greatly when its members use their gifts in the area (ministry) Christ supplies.

When we use our gifts in the proper ministry, we build up (edify) the church and glorify God. There are many, for example, who have the gift of teaching. However, the gift of teaching for me may not look the same in someone else who has the gift of teaching. For instance, my teaching gift is, I believe, in the ministry, or area, of small children. I adore teaching two and three year old Sunday School. Someone else with the gift of teaching may have their ministry in teaching adult women’s Bible study. We both have the gift of teaching, and one is not more important or valuable than the other. Teaching two and three year old’s, for example, isn’t demeaning or “less” than. It is the Lord who gives the various ministries for these gifts to be exercised in. Therefore, we don’t need to be jealous or envy one another’s ministry. We can work within the realm of the ministry that Christ, our master/ruler, gives us. Furthermore, there are those within the church who use their gifts in the wrong area. As a result, they resent serving. Many serve out of obligation instead of prayerfully considering, “Where does God want me to serve?” “What gift has He given me, and how am I to use it?” Friends, we do no one any favors when we serve with reluctance or out of compulsion. In fact, 1st Corinthians 13 addresses this very issue.

If we use our gifts without love, we benefit no one.

Not only are we to discover our gifts and seek to use them in the ministry that the Lord supplies, but we are to remember that it is God who provides the results. The effects aren’t our doing. 1 Cor. 12:6 “There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.” The results of our ministry are not up to us. Numbers (or lack thereof) aren’t the proof of “success” in our ministry. The effects of our ministry are God’s. There is no room for boasting. Nor is there room for self-deprecation. If we are using our God-given gifts how He desires, then we need not be ashamed of the effects of the ministry, no matter the size.

The study on spiritual gifts wraps up with 1 Corinthians 13 and a question on the purpose and value of this chapter on love. What does love have to do with exercising our spiritual gifts? Why is this chapter included? After weeks of studying spiritual gifts, Paul ends with a word of exhortation to believers. He explains the relationship between spiritual gifts and love. He reminds us, as author Stephen Covey said, “to keep the main thing the main thing.”

And the main thing is love.

Love is the glue that holds it all together. Without love, the church is merely going through the motions. Without love, its members will lack distinction; Christ will be missed by those watching. We are made in the image of God, and we are called to glorify Him. We glorify Him when we use the gifts He’s given us properly and position love in the driver’s seat. Spiritual gifts are Love’s passengers.

Seeing this well-known “love” chapter in context blew me away. I was convicted of my own reasons for serving and use of the spiritual gifts I’ve been given. I’ve been humbled to see how gifts have been misused and misunderstood, but excited to share what I’ve learned so that my own church would not, as Paul urged, “be unaware.” When we fail to understand spiritual gifts, the body will not work properly. There will be imbalance and weakness. Spiritual gifts, used rightly, will build a strong, healthy church. The body will function properly and order will prevail. Unity and edification will result. Above all, God will be glorified and Christ will be proclaimed.

I leave you with this, my brothers and sisters in Christ: Are you using your gifts? Do you know what they are? Will you glorify God with them? I pray you would discover your spiritual gifts, use them within your local church body, and build it up, with love as the reason for doing so. You will, indeed, be a reflection of Christ to those within the body and without.

Remember that all these things will end, but love never ceases.

Blessings, Angie

Becoming God’s people

Friends, for those of you who serve (volunteer, lead, teach, etc.) in your church: Can I ask you a rhetorical question?

Why do you serve?

I’m participating in a summer Bible study (Beth Moore’s ‘A Woman’s Heart: God’s Dwelling Place’), and as I was reading the lesson for this week, the verses from Exodus gave me pause. God has delivered the Israelites and provided for them in every way, even giving them meat to eat after they grumble and long for the old life (of slavery!) because they’ve grown weary wandering for just over a month in the desert. They’re hungry, crabby, and loud in their complaint. They are certain they were better off dead in Egypt. In slavery.

It didn’t take long for them to forget, did it? They had already forgotten the miracles that happened before their very eyes. As if protection from one plague wasn’t enough, God set them apart from ten. Ten plagues from which they were spared. And then the ultimate delivery: freedom from those who had taken them captive.

But still they didn’t trust God.

Still, they doubted His goodness, His provision, His deliverance.

As they hungered in the desert and God provided daily with manna, there were some who still refused to do it God’s way. Some tried to save their bread until morning, only to find it had rotted with maggots. (Ex. 16:19-20) Others, disobedient, or perhaps too lazy and irreverent, failed to gather their portion for the Sabbath and found none. (vs.27) Why is it so difficult for us to trust God? Are we really all that different from the Israelites?

This manna was given daily. By God. It was their job to gather it, but God’s job to provide it. Friends, your daily portion of grace? It’s there. But you have to get out of the tent and go gather it. That’s your responsibility. And the manna? The quail? The daily food? It was meant to keep them fully relying on God, to experience Him as Jehovah-Jirah, the God who provides. As Beth Moore states in the study, “Daily bread is about daily relationship.” “Our dependency on God,” as Moore states, “isn’t so that we become dependent people. It’s so that we become relational people.” She continues: “Manna was about being fresh. But we always want to store it up to last. Intimacy with God isn’t manna to be stored up. It’s to be experienced daily; new every morning.”

So what does all this have to do with serving? After everything God has done for His people, providing and caring for them daily, He speaks to Moses with instructions for the sanctuary they were to build. (Ex. 25) God could demand they give their offerings, but He doesn’t. Instead, He says, “…from every man whose heart moves him…”

Now this is where the story gets really good.

In Exodus 36, we see how they responded. We see just how well this freewill offering worked.

They received from Moses all the contributions which the sons of Israel had brought to perform the work in the construction of the sanctuary. And they still continued bringing to him freewill offerings every morning. And all the skillful men who were performing all the work of the sanctuary came, each from the work which he was performing, and they said to Moses, “The people are bringing much more than enough for the construction work which the Lord commanded us to perform.” So Moses issued a command, and a proclamation was circulated throughout the camp, saying, “Let no man or woman any longer perform work for the contributions of the sanctuary.” Thus the people were restrained from bringing any more. For the material they had was sufficient and more than enough for all the work, to perform it. (Ex.36:3-7)

Here’s what Beth Moore had to say regarding this response in our study: (Page 52)

“Imagine your pastor announcing from the pulpit: “Stop that offering plate! And don’t offer to fill another leadership position, either! We have far more than enough to do the work God has called us to do!” Allow the response of the children of Israel to provoke a few personal responses: What is the motivation for my personal offering? Is my heart stirred to give? Has my offering become, at best, an act of obedience rather than a festival of opportunity?

This issue is not about checkbooks. It is about hearts—either stirred or stale.”

Wow. Seriously. When was the last time you served with a whole heart, a heart that desired to give generously, to serve because you wanted to, not because there was an empty spot that needed to be filled? I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty, but hopefully cause us to pause and consider. In many not-so-good ways we are like the Israelites. But giving, serving, to the point of too much? Are we like them in this? Oh, that we would be! Let’s serve, not just to be obedient, but to be relational. Let’s give, not out of obligation, but out of a desire to be in close proximity with God who daily provides for us, who desires an intimate relationship with His children. Will you trust God, Friend, in serving?

Blessings,

Angie signature

Deadly Disappointment

This last year I had the opportunity to study the book of Romans again, Precept style. It’s been eleven years since I studied it last, so I was more than ready for a refresher. Our group finished up part three a few weeks ago, and I am already missing it. (Part four is on the calendar for spring!)

I love studying God’s word inductively. It leaves me satiated, and the studies I have done are ones I don’t forget. The truths gleaned from them are ones that have kept me staying the course when the troubles of this life hit hard.

Romans is perhaps one of the most powerful books I’ve studied over the past sixteen years. It truly is, as Kay says, “the foundation of your faith.” The truths of scripture never age, never “go out of style.” Truth remains applicable for every decade, for every generation that arises.

One bit of truth from our study on Romans was what Kay titled, “The Five Deadly D’s.” What a timely, convicting reminder these were:

  1. Disappointment. Something comes into our lives that we wish were different. It could be a relationship issue, a work issue. It can be disappointment with a circumstance or with a person who has let us down. Whatever the cause, left unchecked disappointment becomes …
  2. Discouragement. Our faith begins to weaken. We lose course. Negativity results and is reflected in our conversations with others. It’s an easy step from discouragement to …
  3. Dejection. This is a lowness of spirit that brings emotional and physical fatigue. With dejection, our body begins to show the consequences of allowing circumstances and emotions to rule our lives. If dejection is allowed to continue, it can easily become …
  4. Despair. In times of despair we lose or abandon hope. We give up. We quit trying to make a difference, to work on a relationship, or to follow God’s clear direction. Instead, we become fatalistic. Finally, the spirit sinks to the point of …
  5. Demoralization. We begin to live in defeat. With this mindset, sin grabs an easy foothold.

Obviously, not every believer who is in despair or demoralized has given in to these “Deadly D’s”. Sometimes the cause may be spiritual warfare. Other times, physiological causes come into play. In this run-ourselves-ragged culture, we may just need rest and intentional quiet time to recharge.

But honestly? Oftentimes, we can trace our downward spiral to our response to disappointment. This is where truth comes in: taking captive “every thought…” “to the obedience of Christ…” (2 Cor. 10:5) How are we to respond to disappointment? Here are a few key ways to deal with disappointment:

      • Kay Arthur suggests replacing “disappointment” with “His appointment.” In other words, rest on the sovereignty of God. He is sovereign. He alone rules. He is Lord. Albeit, some disappointments are because things need to be changed. That’s why another valuable response is to:
      • Turn the disappointment to prayer. If your disappointment is in a circumstance or individual, take it to God. Let your hurt spur you to passionate prayer. Through prayer, God changes our attitude. Sometimes He will change the situation, but most often, He changes our heart.
      • Allow your disappointments to drive you closer to God. Especially in relationships, we can experience disappointment. Don’t deny the reality of the sting of disappointment, but instead, apply the “Balm of Gilead.” God holds our sorrows and applies the elixir of Truth to bring hope and healing in each of them.
      • Perspective is crucial. Focus on “the big picture:” the glory of God and His kingdom purposes. We often don’t understand what He is doing, but He is trustworthy. When we view our circumstances through the eyes of Christ, we can know, trust, and believe that God’s ways are, indeed, better than our ways.

Some alternatives to the “Deadly D’s”:

Delight – Delight yourself in God. Focus on God and His character.

Dynamic – Remember God’s power is at work in us who believe. We have a helper, the Holy Spirit, who empowers us.

Develop – Develop godly relationships with people who will “weep with those who weep,” and “rejoice with those who rejoice.” Authentic relationships will also allow room for others to speak God’s truth to you when you need to hear it most.

Determination – Determine to persevere. Allow perseverance to “finish its work.” (James 1:4) When perseverance is complete, maturity results. We no longer will act like children, impetuous and lacking, but mature and complete. We will reflect the image of Christ.

Friend, are you disappointed?  Beware of “The Five Deadly D’s.” Remember this: God is sovereign. God hears. God is able. God sees. Allow your disappointment to forge, not something bitter, but something better.

Blessings,

Angie signature