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Saturday, November 17, 2012
At the beginning of this year, I shared a testimony of how the Lord had used a period of rest to minister to me in several key areas. This morning He brought up the subject again in my spirit.
Rest is an act of trust. By resting, we show that we believe God is able to do more than we are! After all, resting is waiting on the Lord to act or speak instead of trying to “fix things” ourselves (how many of us have made a bigger mess of things in the process of “fixing it”?! I know I have, especially when trying to encourage someone verbally.)
Sometimes my son tries to do something that is too difficult for him to accomplish. Usually, if I don't think it will harm him, I let him try (that is how they (and we) grow). But when he's obviously failing at the task, I will ask, “Would you like some help?”.
The Lord is like that with us. He appreciates our hearts to try to “fix things” and wants us to learn and grow as we do. But often only He has the skill and insight to handle the situation properly.
Perhaps that is why the Word admonishes us to “strive diligently to enter” God's rest (Hebrews 4:11 AMP). This apparent contradiction (how can striving lead to rest!?) is really the key to seeing the Lord move in our personal and communal lives. Only when we allow Him to come into a situation and apply his boundless resources to it will we see the results we hope and long for.
Friday, October 12, 2012
How to Start His Ministry
The other day I felt led to turn to Matthew. As I read, I got more and more excited. Gradually, I began to realize that Matthew contains the pattern for true ministry!
First, some revelation that came to me. The Spirit of God began ministering to Jesus from his birth. This explains how he was able to astonish the Scribes and Teachers of the Law (!) in the Temple at age 12 with his understanding (Luke 2:46-47). However, he did not receive the empowerment for ministry until he was baptized at age 30, which, together with the tradition of Rabbis beginning ministry at that age, explains why his ministry did not begin until that time.
During those 18 years, he grew up with Godly parents who taught him the Word, learned to live with and love others, worked alongside his father and generally participated in life (to the fullest, no doubt!). In other words, he learned how to live and live well, as must we all.
Before he could begin his ministry, two other events needed to occur. First, he needed to be affirmed by his true Father, whose pride in him (before he had done anything, ministry-wise!) was proclaimed publicly.
Secondly, he had to be tested (in the wilderness). As preparation, he spent time (as led by the Spirit) in fasting and prayer (as he did at the end of his life as well, but that's another story.) After successfully completing the test, he returned “in the power of the Spirit” (Luke 3:14) and began his minsitry.
His message was the same as John's: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”, showing both respect for and continuity with John's work (His spirit was one of cooperation, not ambition/competition.)
After showing what he believed his very next act was to call disciples! Amazing, he has no following, no income, no building, no books, no recognized training, in fact, he has yet to do anything ministry-wise other than repeat what someone else has already said yet people followed him! The disciples were giving up their lives to follow him, as Peter later pointed out (Matt 19:27). They were entrusting him with their lives.
How can we explain such trust, on the basis of so short a track record of ministry? Certainly, the depth of his character and the Spirit which accompanied him is part of the explanation. How else could the simple phrase “follow me” cause men to leave their families (at least for a time) and livelihoods and go with a man whom they didn't even know “where he stayed” at first (John 1:37).
Somehow, perhaps they sensed that in choosing them he was in fact entrusting them with something more precious than even their own lives, the message of Salvation for humanity (Matt 13:44-46)! Trust begets trust (we love because he first loved us. Love always trusts.)
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Ever since hearing the story of Pinocchio our son has wanted to play the violin. (Quick refresher: Pinocchio, a wooden puppet, comes to life when he puts others' needs above his own. In the Disney version of the story, Geppetto, the woodcarver who makes him, plays the violin and dances to celebrate Pinocchio's safe return).
To encourage our son's bent, and also because we enjoy it, every so often our family attends a concert in which violin (or fiddle) music is offered. At a recent concert, as I leafed through the program during some of the pieces, something about two of the featured composers caught my eye.
One, Louis Spohr, was very successful in his day. Greatly admired and respected as a composer, Spohr had the enviable position of royal musician for both the German and Austrian courts. His work was promoted by non other than Felix Mendellsohn. As I listened to his composition, while I enjoyed a few innovative phrases, I found my mind wandering after a time.
The second composer was virtually unknown in his day. Living in the relative musical backwater of Bohemia, he was unattractive physically and had bad eyesight. His attempts to see his work published mostly failed. But, as the program informed me, Schubert developed a musical style that was uniquely his own and he continued developing that style throughout his musical career. He was true to his gift and, despite forces to the contrary, shared it faithfully with others out of a heart that could only have been motivated by love itself. Perhaps that's what made Franz Schubert's work endure while Spohr's has been virtually forgotten.
How 'bout our works? Will what we do affect lives years from now? Jesus shared that that is why we were called in the first place, to bear fruit that will last (John 15:16), that will keep on bearing fruit for generations to come.
Does that sound like a tall order? Follow Schubert's example: don't be deterred by those who don't understand you or molded by those whose focus is gaining popularity or wealth. Do what you are called to do, and keep doing it til the end. Jesus promised that if we do so, with a heart of love, the work that we do will make a difference that will surpass time itself.
Saturday, March 10, 2012
In his work, The Miracle of Freedom: Seven Tipping Points that Saved the World, Chris Stewart looks at events that led to the Freedom that we, in the Western World at least, enjoy today. Many of them are heroic conflicts, such as the Battle of Britain, which turned the tide against the Nazis in WWII, and the fight to the death of the 300 Spartans against several hundred thousand Persians at Thermopylae or the Revolutionary War here in America. Interestingly, in these and many other examples that could be mentioned, though the odds were greatly against them (the German Luftwaffe coming against the RAF were considered the best in the world, the American irregulars were fighting the world's most powerful military force at the time), the force fighting for freedom prevailed, changing, as Mr. Stewart points out, the course of human history forever. In each of these cases, the underdogs believed in a particular quality that united them—for the Greeks, Courage, the British, Tenacity, for America, Freedom.
Recently I was reading Behind the Ice Curtain, the autobiography of a young Jewish girl, Dina Gabel, sent to Siberia with her sickly mother during WWII. At one point, she is carted off to prison to be questioned by the KGB. The Soviet Secret Service does there best to tear down Dina's resolve, holding her in solitary confinement, interrogating her in the middle of the night, confronting her with a long list of supposed offenses, enticing her with promises of better rations and pay should she turn informant. Choosing to fast rather than eat the choice foods they offer her to soften her will, the young lady outlasts and outwits her tormenters. This proves to be the tipping point in her own personal odyssey; things begin to gradually improve until her eventual return to her homeland.
Much could (and should) be said about the role of the Lord, in directing human events towards His desired ends. It is easy, especially these days, to see the hand of the enemy of our souls in hastening events towards his goals of death and destruction. But we should never forget that, ultimately, it is the Lord's plans that prevail. As the father of our nation, George Washington put it:
I have lived sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of men.
What is it, though that God actually does to tip the scales in favor of the few against the many. In it's fulness, the answer to this is surely a mystery, only to be known (perhaps) when we meet him face to face on That Day. A number of clues, however, seem to be present in each of these incidents as to the key to winning against all odds. Hope, surely. Perseverance. Courage.
I would like to focus specifically on one in this writing. It may not seem as “heavy” or important as those just mentioned. But I find it to be key none-the-less. There is perhaps no single English word that expresses it fully so let me describe it with several: Sincerity. Innocence. An absence of guile. Interestingly, this is the first character quality the Lord commends in one of his disciples (Jn 1:47). Many of us have heard sermons describing how sculptors stamped sincere (literally, without wax) on their works to certify that no wax was used to hide cracks or other mistakes in workmanship. i.e. the piece was wholly connected to and with itself.
I recently watched a touching youtube video of the program China's Got Talent, (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_Kwk_nK-Ds&feature=related) showing an Inner Mongolian young man, singing a song about how he dreamed of his mom. He had lost both parents in an accident. But he was choosing to focus on the good and move forward with life.
I believe that is the key to success against all odds. Are we wholly connected to our beliefs? Have they become part of us and we them? A facebook post proclaims that spirituality is about having one's mind, heart, and behavior in alignment. All of this is a choice, or rather a(n ongoing) series of choices that determine whether our foundation is solid or shifts like the sands.
When I was growing up in Arabia, the winds would blow the sands so much that tall dunes would cover the roadways overnight, making them impassable. Oil was sprayed along the sides of the main roads to prevent this. Sand storms (for protection against, the Bedouin wear their iconic headresses) stung one's face like a thousand needles, clouding vision and making progress difficult. Amazing how tiny grains light enough to be blown easily could cause such problems. It is because they are not attached to anything. They have no integrity. It is the oil of the Spirit which enables us to connect the various elements of our life and faith to present a solid whole.
One final point. What makes fine qualities in a person especially endearing is when the person him or herself doesn't draw attention to them. A case in point: Nawal El Moutawakel (anyone ever heard of her?! Neither had I until an reading a past issue of Success magazine. :-) ) Turns out she was the first Muslim woman to win a Gold Medal at the Olympics (1984, 400m hurdles), no mean feat in a culture that often makes women cover their entire bodies and only allows them to participate in sports during their childhoods, and then only after completing household chores. She says about her victory that day, that she, herself, didn't expect to win (she looked to both sides on crossing the finish line in surprise that no one was there!). Yet win she did, blazing a trail for 1/3 of the world's population of women to follow.
Are we connected to our beliefs? Have we allowed them to become part and parcel of who and what we are? My mother, growing up the child of missionary parents in India learned to love the often warm, Indian culture. My father used to tease her about how Indian she was in her thinking by saying that if you scratched her you would see brown skin underneath. If someone were to scratch the spiritual facade we all put forth, what would they find?
As part of my professional training, we had to prepare irregular pieces of gold for casting by melting them. We knew the gold was ready to be cast because it had lost its particular nooks and crannies and formed itself into a clear, quivering ball, held together by the purity of its bonds. True faith, because it is of such great worth, must always be tested by fire. May we all come through our time of testing as shining gold....
Saturday, February 18, 2012
On the way to school the other day, my son asked me a good question—Do trees grow in the winter time? Not being an expert on such matters, I answered as best I could. He then followed up with a question about how long trees live. We had talked about this before and how there were some trees alive today which were living at the time of Jesus.
My son’s questions starting me thinking about types of trees and how long they live. I remembered hearing of the great age of some of the mighty Sequoias, growing so large and tall surrounded by others of their own kind. Then I remembered the diminutive bristlecone pine, which often lives alone on the side of a mountain, twisted by the powerful winds that whip past its inhospitable environs. Interestingly, of the two, it is the bristlecone which can live the longest.
My thoughts (in the Lord) then led to two lives of another sort, both of which are lived by faith. In Hebrews chapter 11 we’re told that some accomplish mighty deeds, gaining victories and receiving great blessings through their faith in God. Much like a Sequoia, they are impressive people, well known and respected by others for their accomplishments (in the Lord).
But the same chapter also mentions others, ones who suffer, are ridiculed and even despised. These often live alone, or in small groups, little known or heeded by the world at large. Sometimes they are killed for their faith. These, too, the Word commends, in fact it adds the special commendation, “the world was not worthy of them”. In other words, it’s not that they are not fit to live. To the contrary, they are too great for the evil world in which they find themselves. They will be taken to a better place, where they will reign together with the Lord (see Rev 20:4).
Each of us has his or her own path to travel as a believer in Messiah Yeshua. Some live out their faith among others of like mind, enjoying the rich soil of broad fellowship, standing strong and accomplishing much, both in the world’s eyes and in the eyes of the Lord, just as the Sequoia’s grow large and tall in their groves together. Such serve as beacons and examples to others, and many are sheltered under their spiritual covering.
But others are called to a different type of life, a life of struggle, often waged seemingly nearly alone (but actually in the presence of the Lord). In the often solitary environment in which they find themselves, there is little of the mutual encouragement which exists among those who spend their days in fellowship with others. Their fellowship is with the soaring eagles, and the wind of the Spirit which blows so freely in their special abode. Like the bristlecone, they must cling to the soil of whatever revelation they have, prying out of the Rock enough nourishment to carry on. Their energies, it seems, go mainly into simply surviving. They often bear scars caused by the difficult location in which they find themselves.
They, too, have grown strong. But their strength manifests in a different way, the strength of heart born in the midst of perseverance through difficulty. Instead of outward accomplishments, their growth has been within, resulting in a wiry tenacity that refuses to give up, despite the tremendous factors arrayed against them, factors that would cause those who have not been through similar challenges to bow down under the strain. With time persecution, shame, and loneliness no longer intimidate them, much as bristlecones become accustomed to the lightning, blizzards and fierce winds that frequent their lofty mountain locales. Their one desire is to please the one who created them for this very purpose and placed them where others could not survive to be a testimony of His glory.
Some of you reading this are Sequoias. Enjoy the life you have been given in the Lord here on earth, for you have the opportunity to influence many. But for the bristlecones out there, take heart. Your struggles are not unseen by Him. In fact, His eye is much upon you. Yours is to claim the mighty peaks for the Kingdom.
Monday, February 13, 2012
I bought a movie the other day—The Kingdom, starring Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper and Jennifer Garner. More violent than my usual but I felt led to watch it. I learned several things from the film, which is set in the land I was born in, Saudi Arabia. The film is about a team of FBI operatives who fly into the capital, Rhiyadh, to try to solve a terrorist plot. In one scene, one of the agents is swearing profusely. Their Saudi Policeman host asks him in no uncertain terms to stop. Our agent seems a bit surprised by this, but out of respect for their culture, he complies.
I have thought much over the years about the power of words. The Bible claims that as a man thinks in his heart, so is he (!). And that by our words we will be justified and by our words, condemned. Wow! Something so simple as words have the power to bring us into heaven or send us to hell.
If you're like me, you struggle sometimes to believe all that the Bible says. Those of us with a scientific background are used to having evidence. Well now there is some. By way of background, there has been a debate in scientific circles for decades about the role of environment vs. heredity as to their respective effects on human life and society. My father, a Professor of Public Health at Harvard, used to refer to this as “Nature vs Nurture”. The debate over which has the upper hand in determining what kind of people we become has swung back and forth over the past 40 years or so.
One other background point--Neuroscience has made incredible advances over the past 15 to 20 years, so much so that my wife, a Physician, felt she needed to buy a new textbook to help catch up on some of the new understandings that have emerged since she was in Medical School. Now bear with me as I attempt a brief foray into genetic science. One of the new areas of study is that of gene expression. It turns out that who we are is not only determined by our genetic makeup, i.e. what genes we are born with. It is also influenced by which genes are “expressed”, or turned on by what is called the “epigene”, the part of the genome on top of the DNA which actually codes for our individual characteristics.
Dr Caroline Leaf, a Christian neuroscientist, reports the result of a fascinating experiment that reinforces the incredible influence of our environment and in particular our words. Samples of DNA were extracted from a number of researchers. The DNA was normal. For a period of time, half of the researchers spoke all kinds of negative words in the room . They then examined the DNA again. It had shriveled up and become largely non-functional! (This was true both of the genes in the test tube, that in those speaking and that of those hearing the words).
They then did the experiment again, speaking all manner of positive words. This time all the DNA had returned to normal, “plumping up” and becoming functional once again! If you have struggled with believing that what you say and what you listen to has any effect on your life, here is your proof! The words that are spoken around us have tremendous power. The good news is, all of us have the ability to influence what we think, read and hear each day. Choose to make those inputs positive (the Bible, anyone!) and watch your life change like you could never believe!