Friday, September 19, 2008

Reality Check: God Doesn't Need Me

Psalm 113
Praise the LORD!
Praise, O servants of the LORD,
Praise the name of the LORD.
Blessed be the name of the LORD
From this time forth and forever.
From the rising of the sun to its setting
The name of the LORD is to be praised.
The LORD is high above all nations;
His glory is above the heavens.
Who is like the LORD our God,
Who is enthroned on high,
Who humbles Himself to behold
The things that are in heaven and in the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust
And lifts the needy from the ash heap,
To make them sit with princes,
With the princes of His people.
He makes the barren woman abide in the house
As a joyful mother of children.
Praise the LORD!

Okay, I know the picture and this Scripture look funny next to each other. But recently, I've realized how guilty I am of saying one thing with my mouth, but living another...with good intentions, no doubt, but completely missing the picture. I try not to be selfish. I always want to put someone else's needs above my own. Each day, I strive to learn more about God simply because I desire to know Him and make Him known. It drives me crazy if something prevents me from being there for a college student who needs some counsel. When James and I go home to Tennessee, we do our best not to miss a Sunday because we feel a responsibility to be there for the students of 412 Ministries. A few days ago, I would have been pleased of this fact. But yesterday, I got a reality check from my Texas dad/boss/Systematic Theology professor:

"God doesn't need you."

What? God doesn't need me? Are you kidding? Then what am I doing here? I mean, I know that God is omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), and omnipresent (ever present), but...oh my...God doesn't need me!"

Why do I trick myself into thinking I am the center of the universe? If someone in our ministry has a problem, can God fix it without me? Yes. If someone I work with is lost and doesn't know Christ, can God draw them to Himself without my help? Yes. Am I really so prideful to think that God needs me to do His work? Unfortunately...yes. Sometimes, I think I fall captive to that lie. I sing to Him, "It's all about you, Jesus, and all this is for You. For your glory and your fame, it's not about me, as if you should do things my way. You alone are God, and I surrender to Your ways." At the same time, I am concerned because I left small group early. Do I really think that my input really makes that big of a difference on God's Word?

That doesn't mean that God doesn't desire a relationship with me or that I shouldn't strive to serve Him. God is involved in everything in this world. Acts 17:27-28 says, "That they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward Him and find Him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for in him, we live and move and have our being, as even some of your own poets have said, for we are indeed His offspring." God cares for me as my Heavenly Father. I love the truth in this verse that God is not far from me. The part of me that is still a little girl sometimes just desires to crawl up in my Daddy's lap when I don't know what to do or I'm hurt. He cares about every detail of my life and your life.

But He is also above everything in this world. Isaiah 55:8-9 says, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." This doesn't mean that God doesn't understand our thoughts or our ways. It simply acknowledges the fact that He doesn't have to deal with our struggles. He is perfect, and we are not.

There must be a delicate balance between comprehending both of these truths for an accurate understanding of who God is. If we lean to heavily on the Isaiah text, we may fool ourselves into thinking that we don't have any responsibilities because God is supreme. (I wish there was a way to make a buzzer go off on my blog right now.) Yes, He is absolute, and He is sovereign. But we can't forget the last words from Jesus before He ascended into heaven: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:19-20). We are instructed to tell others and help them grow in their faith however we can.

The danger on relying on the Acts text alone leads us to putting ourselves on an equal level with God. God is holy and deserves our utmost respect. He loves you and will be there for you when you call on His name, but He is not your co-pilot or your homeboy. (Sorry if you have the bumper sticker or the t-shirt, but it's true.)

Isaiah 57:15 may sum it up best: "For thus says the high and exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy, 'I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.'" God is above me and greater than me in every way. He knows that I am incapable of getting to His level. However, because He cares for me, He lowers himself to restore me for His glory.

God doesn't need me; He exceeds me.
God doesn't need me; He precedes me.
God doesn't need me; He will lead me.
God doesn't need me; He will succeed through me.

Special thanks to Dr. Thomas White for his spiritual guidance in this post's content.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Gettin' Sassy with Satan

Job 2:2
"The LORD said to Satan, "Where have you come from?" Then Satan answered the LORD and said, "From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it."

Not exactly a lovely thought, huh? From this verse, it sounds like we could just bump into Satan at Target! He's just hanging out where we live...and his goal is to make us stumble in our faith. Oh, and he won't make it easy on you. Contrary to cartoon depictions and popular belief, he more than likely won't appear to you in the form of a little red guy with horns carrying a pitchfork. But when you find yourself in a situation where you have the choice to compromise your Christian testimony, you can bet that Satan is near.

I would love to tell you that Satan is dumb. Unfortunately, he's not. He's pretty crafty... much smarter than we would like for him to be. (Side note: He's also not nearly as smart as we sometimes give him credit for. There will be more about that in a later post.) However, it sometimes seems like he knows just where to get us - individually. Every Christian struggles with certain sins. Have you noticed that Satan always seem to hit you where you are most volunerable? Of course he does. He has a purpose - to make you give into his temptation.

It's exactly like a man who is going to propose to his girlfriend. Do you think he would propose if he thought she would say no? Not unless he just enjoys rejection. Satan tempts you in areas he knows you are likely to give in and say yes.

Do you know situations that you would be likely to give in to temptation? Personally, Satan likes to attack me in my physical appearance...specifically, my weight. I battled anorexia for four years, and I'm much better now. However, he still uses the same lies to try and make me fall back into old habits. It's important to know the areas where you are more likely to fall for Satan's tricks so you can be prepared when he attacks.

Do you know how to protect yourself from His temptations? Ephesians 4:27 says, "Do not even give Satan a foothold." Don't put yourselves in situations where you could be tempted. For example, I don't keep full-length mirrors in my house. When I stand in front of one, there's always the chance that Satan will start filling my head with lies. It doesn't eliminate the problem...but since I stopped keeping full length mirrors, I find myself in that situation much less.

Your struggles may be completely different that mine. Maybe you feel pressured to party with your friends. Instead of waitinf for them to invite you to do something that you know you shouldn't do, could you take control of the situation and plan a night of clean fun? Maybe you are so in love with your boyfriend, and you just don't want to wait any longer. It would probably be best to limit the time you two spend alone.

Maybe you are thinking, "I don't struggle with any of those things! I must be okay." Really? What if you walk up to group of friends, and they are talking about another girl you know? Do you join in on the gossip? Do you just stand there and not participate? Or would you have the courage to ask them to stop? If that doesn't work, do you walk away? Here's the bottom line: Your relationship with Christ is too precious. Don't put yourself in situations where you would be in danger of compromising your Christian standards.

These are all situations where Satan lies to you by whispering in your ear things like, "It's okay. It's just one time. No one is around, so no one will find out. You know if you speak up, your friends will make fun of you. Nobody's perfect. It's alright to mess up every once in a while. You're supposed to mess up."

DON'T FALL FOR IT. Do you realize who you are listening to if you give in to Satan's lies? The Bible refers to him with such terms as the devil, adversary, evil one, murderer, liar, thief, tempter, accuser of the brethren, prince of demons, and god of this world. He is in constant rebellion against God. Through his influence, Satan generates discord, deception, and disobedience among human beings.

In Christ, Satan is already defeated, and his dominion and influence as god of this world will cease at Christ’s return. (Luke 10:18; Revelation 12:9; 1 Peter 5:8; John 8:44; Job 1:6-12; Zechariah 3:1-2; Revelation 12:10; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Revelation 20:1-3; Hebrews 2:14; 1 John 3:8) If you've read the Bible, specifically the book of Revelation, you know the end of the story. God wins, and Satan loses. You have nothing to be afraid of because the battle is as good as over. As long as you are a child of God, NO ONE and NOTHING can take you from Him.

But here's my question. Do you take that attitude with Satan? Do you let him know that he is defeated by the One who lives in you? Or do you tip toe timidly around him - afraid that he will convince you to give in?

Imagine being at a football game. You are with your best friend. You are cheering for opposite teams. She has gone on and on about how her team is going to destroy yours. She's pestered you, sent jeering text messages, talked smack on Facebook. At the end of the first half, your team is up by seven. By the third quarter, her team's offense can't even seem to move the ball. With five seconds left to go, your team has ran up a score SO HIGH on her's that it looks like a basketball scoreboard.

Now, dear Christian friend, tell me. Would you sit back in those last five seconds and be afraid that her team would make up the difference? NO! If you're like me, you won't start your victory dance, pull out your cell phone and ask again, "Now wait a second, when you said your team was going to make us cry, did you mean tears of joy? Because we won. Can you see the scoreboad? Seriously. My eyesight is bad. Can you read it for me? A little louder? I'm sorry. What did you say? WHICH TEAM is it who won? So if we won, does that mean that your team lost? Can you say that again? It sounds so nice." (Yeah, you don't want to lose to me.)

In all seriousness...don't waste that awesome attitude on a friend. USE IT ON THE ENEMY! Get sassy with Satan!

And you know what makes him really mad? Don't use your own words. I mean, as fantastic as my Christian smack is, my words are nothing compared to God's Word! Quote Scripture. Seriously. He can't refute it. He can't beat it. When Jesus was tempted in Matthew 4, (another passage will will look at in more detail in a later post) that's exactly how He got Satan to beat it. And God has armed us with the same weapon!

I've been known on more than one occassion to retort back to Satan's lies about my appearance with the "Michelle Version" of Psalm 45:11. "Oh yeah? Well, guess what, Satan? My King is enthralled with MY beauty! And I will honor Him, and NOT YOU, for He is my Lord!" Oh, and you can bet my neck is working the whole time.

Memorize Scripture that teaches against where Satan tempts you. When you find youtself in that situation, SAY THE SCRIPTURE, and SAY IT SASSY!

John 10:27-30 quotes Jesus saying, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one." Once you belong to the Lord, Satan will never be able to get you. The Lord is too strong.

Take that, Satan.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Finish Line Faith

The Olympic Games...two solid weeks of athletic competition and patriotism. The media switched their focus from the presidential election to cover table tennis. Kids were allowed to stay up past their bedtimes to see if Shawn Johnson would win the overall title. Companies like Wheaties, VISA, and Coca Cola developed new logos to capture new comsumers by manipulating the spirit of the games for their products.

You would think anything that would alter life so drastically would have more of a lasting impact. But even though details were fresh on our minds before each competiton began, there is one thing we remember when it's over: the winner.

Think about it. In the 100 meter men's sprint, can you tell me which runner took the first lead? No. How about second place? Probably not. But what can you tell me?

As a runner, you can probably tell me that Jamaica's Usain Bolt broke his own world record in that race to win the gold. He joined the ranks of Carl Lewis in winning gold in both the 100m and 200m. Not to mention, he shattered Michael Johnson's record that no one thought would ever be broken.

Do you see a pattern here? No one remembers how you started unless you finish well.

Let's go through two Biblical examples. First, let's talk about Judas Iscariot. He started out pretty well. He was one of the original twelve disciples of Jesus. I'm sure his family and friends thought he was a good man to be that close to Jesus. But what is he remembered for? He was the one who betrayed Jesus Christ. For thirty pieces of silver, he handed his Savior over to be crucified. (See John 18 for the whole story.)Today, if someone betrays you, you may even call them a "Judas." No matter what good he did with his life, even 2,000 years later, he is not remembered for accompanying Jesus for his three years of ministry on this earth. He is remembered as a traitor.

On the other hand, consider the apostle Paul. He got off to a pretty rocky start. First of all, his name was Saul. You know what he did all day? Persecuted Christians. (Check out Acts 8 for the details.) But the Lord had other plans. He blinded Saul with a great light, Saul was converted, and God changed his name from Saul to Paul. God told Ananias, Paul's teacher, that Paul was a "chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel." (Acts 9:15) From that moment on, that's exactly what Paul did. He preached the Gospel to those who had not heard the name of Jesus. He wrote over half of the New Testament. He started more churches that we can even begin to count. When we think about Paul, we don't think about the innocent Christians that he killed in his life before Christ. We think about the amazing relationship he had with the Lord and the amazing testimony of his life, bearing the name of Christ, proclaiming joy in persecution and suffering.

Think about this in your own Christian life. After you make a decision for Christ, things are going pretty well. You pray and read your Bible. You might even tell someone else about Jesus. But what happens? Life starts getting busy. Priorities change. Before you know it, your relationship with God is about as meaningful as your relationship to your sixth cousin twice removed.

In 2 Timothy 4:7, towards the end of his life, Paul wrote, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." Paul may not hsve had the lead at the beginning of his Christian walk. In fact, he wasn't even in the race. Others who got a better start dropped out along the way. Their endurance couldn't take the pressures that are promised to us when we follow Christ.

Jesus didn't teach that we might face hardship. He assured us that it was inevitable. Matthew 10:22-23, Jesus says, "You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved. But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes." Notice that he doesn't say IF they persecute you. It says WHENEVER they persecute you.

Not everyone wins a race. It's the same way in the Christian faith. Jesus said, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few." (Matthew 9:37). Paul had what it took because he understood what it meant to cross the finish line. He practiced the same message He preached. And here's just another amazing fact about our incredible Father God. He doesn't just give gold medals to those who finish first. He gives a gold medal to everyone who finishes BEST.

In I Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul writes, "Don't you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Oherwise, I fear thst after preaching it to others, I myself might be disqualified."

You may be a casual runner like me. I'll never win a gold medal in the Olympics for Track & Field. I'll never know what it feels like to stand up on that top box while the Star-Spangled Banner plays in the background with a gold medal around my neck...until I get to heaven. To hear God say, "Well done, my good and faithful servant," will overshadow any Olympic ceremony.

I remember training for my first marathon. I followed the training plan exactly...until two weeks before the race when an injury kept me from running the race. I trained for months and had nothing to show for it. I did get another chance. Above, you see me crossing the finish line and beaming for the camera.

As a marathon runner, I'm continually asked, "What in the world motivates you to keep running for 26.2 miles?" Easy - the accomplishment in crossing the finsish line. That doesn't mean it wasn't difficult...that I didn't hit the infamous "wall" at Mile 20. But I pushed past the pain, and the finish line was well worth it. When you think about it, the Christian life is the same way. Some miles are harder than others. It can even hurt.

But having faith - finish-line faith - will always be worth it.