“Come Out of Hiding”

(Matthew 14: 13-14 , The Message) When Jesus got the news, he slipped away by boat to an out-of-the-way place by himself. But unsuccessfully—someone saw him and the word got around. Soon a lot of people from the nearby villages walked around the lake to where he was. When he saw them coming, he was overcome with pity and healed their sick.

Sometimes we just want to be left alone.  We get tired of the noise, and we crave the silence of solitude.  I know that for me personally, being in a crowd can completely drain me, and eventually I need to be alone for a while so that I can regain my composure and find my sense of grace again.

Even though he was fully God, we know that Jesus was also a human being.  When he learned of what had happened to John the Baptist, he was stricken with grief and, yes, he just wanted to be left alone.

I love instances like this…when we are allowed a glimpse into the humanity of Christ…when we get to connect with Him on our own level…when He feels like one of us…you know, a person who just needs a minute alone to process something difficult. 

The humanity in Christ is what yearned for solitude.  He had spent countless days and hours doing for others…healing, blessing, counseling and teaching.  Every moment of his existence revolved around his ministry, and because he was also fully God, he was driven and compelled by his love for the thousands of people who followed him wherever he went.  So when he couldn’t even be left alone for more than just a moment to grieve, instead of lashing out or hiding like many of us would do, Jesus responded with compassion for their needs.

When I am hurting or overwhelmed, I have a tendency to shut down.  I don’t want to see anyone, I don’t want to talk to anyone, and I certainly don’t want to do anything for anyone.  Just leave me alone, please.  And though my intention is just to recharge, if I am not careful, it can evolve into a negative state of mind, leading me down a selfish path toward depression.

Let’s face it…everyone needs a break sometimes.  Unlike Jesus, we aren’t fully God.  Life can move at such a rapid pace, and we often get roped into doing so much, that we have to pump the brakes a little and pull over.  So there isn’t anything wrong with taking a breather.  However, like Jesus, we are called to a higher purpose…one that reaches beyond our own needs.  As His ambassadors, His disciples, His own hands and feet on this earth, we have to put ourselves aside.  We are called to a life of sacrifice…to crucify our flesh every day.  Jesus said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)

Today and every day, God is calling you to take up your own cross and follow His lead…to reach out, rather than withdraw…to respond to the needs of others, even when you can’t seem to see beyond your own needs…to love, even when you feel unloved…to come out of hiding.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, when I am weary of doing good, when I am tired of people and I just want to hide, help me put myself aside.  When I am having trouble remembering my purpose, and when I am functioning in selfishness, help me put myself aside.  Thank you for the rest and peace that I find in You, and that when I am following Your lead I will never faint or lose my way.  Amen. 

A Life Worthy Of His Call

“So we keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of his call.  May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do.  Then the name of our Lord Jesus will be honored because of the way you live, and you will be honored along with him.  This is all made possible because of the grace of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ.”

— 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12

Along with many Americans, I spent this past Sunday evening with some friends watching the Patriots overcome a massive scoreboard deficit to win their fifth Super Bowl win.  Regardless of how you felt about that outcome, it’s always interesting to watch the reactions of the players, coaches and support staff in the wake of a championship victory.  Years of hard work and dedication have finally produced the desired result, so of course celebration is in order! 

One of the images that stuck out to me was of the Patriots backup quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, surrounded by his friends and family, every single one of them wearing his jersey and celebrating his team’s victory.  Of course, there were detractors pointing out that he didn’t play a single snap during the game, and yet here he was celebrating as if he had orchestrated the winning drive or thrown the final touchdown pass.  Why should he be celebrating when he didn’t even play?

The reality is that although Jimmy was not the MVP of the game, and statistically contributed nothing to that particular victory, he was still a valuable part of the organization.  He played a significant part in the planning and preparation. He worked out and drilled with his teammates.  He studied film with teammates and coaches, breaking down the opponents’ schemes and figuring out ways to exploit weaknesses.  He was available to step in at a moment’s notice if the starter should be unable to play.  Because he and his teammates answered the call to give their very best, they were victorious and he earned a share of the glory.  Jimmy Garoppolo is as much a champion today as Tom Brady & Julian Edelman. 

And this is what the apostle Paul is describing in the passage above.  Christian theologians talk about “calling” in two forms.  The first is a “general calling.”  It is the open invitation to everyone to enter into a restored relationship with God.  This is the call to Salvation.  The other form of calling is the “specific calling” that is unique to YOU as an individual.  It is the plan of God for your life, the purpose for which you were created.  That is an awesome, yet sobering thought.  God has called all of us out of the darkness of sin and into the light of His life and love, but beyond that He has called you to a specific role on His team.

Each of us has something that God wants to leverage to accomplish His will, His plan, in the world.  Maybe it is a natural talent or ability that God has gifted you that He desires for you to develop and put to work on His behalf.  It could be that God has placed you in a situation of power or influence and wants you to use for Kingdom work.  It can, and will, look different for each person.  What makes it even harder to understand is that you cannot always realize the impact that you are having.  Like a mosaic or a pointillist painting, a close examination of particulars does not always reveal the over-arching design.  It is only when you step back and look at things from a different perspective, God’s eternal perspective, that the brilliance and beauty of the plan becomes evident. 

God can do whatever He wants.  He can call things into existence with a single word.  He knitted together the very fabric of our universe and controls power and resources beyond our comprehension.  And still, in His infinite wisdom, He has graciously extended the invitation to each of us to participate in His will.  The question is, how will you answer that call?  Will you live your life in such a way that you are worthy of the call?

Prayer:  Father, in closing I want to repeat the prayer of Paul over every individual that reads this blog.  I ask that you enable them to live a life worthy of Your call.  Give them the power to accomplish the good works that their faith prompts them to do.  I pray that their lives be honorable and will give honor to You. Finally, I give thanks for the gracious invitation that You have extended to us.  In the precious name of Jesus, I pray.  Amen.

You Have Shut Up The Kingdom!

(Matthew 23:3-4, 13 ESV) 3 So do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. … 13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.

There was a time in my life when I was unwilling to answer the call of God upon my life. Having grown up in a pastors home, I was well aware of the challenges that every minister faces when serving the body of Christ. With that said, when I finally affirmed and committed to my calling, I discovered joys that I did not expect.

With any calling, whether it is a father who provides for his family, a mother who nurtures her children, or an ambassador for Christ in the workplace there comes a great responsibility to be faithful.

The scripture today reveals a terrible wrong that was being committed against people who were seeking the truth of the gospel. The scribes and Pharisees–people whose primary responsibility was to unlock the scripture–were instead shutting the kingdom of heaven to those who were seeking. They did this in two ways: (1) They did not take advantage of the opportunities to learn from scripture themselves, and (2) they prevented seekers by placing heavy requirements of the law that they were unable to bear. The high level of frustration caused the people to give up their search for the truth.

Luke is a little more direct in his description. (Luke 11:52 HCSB) 52 “Woe to you experts in the law! You have taken away the key of knowledge! You didn’t go in yourselves, and you hindered those who were going in.” 

Each of us are called by God to represent Him to the world. He expects us to prepare ourselves for the opportunities that come before us. As I study the Bible and spend time in prayerful communion with the Lord, my knowledge expands and equips me to open the door of knowledge to those who are diligently seeking.

One of my greatest desires is to remain faithful to the call. God desires that we open doors–not close them–so that seekers may find Him. Our world needs to experience Christ! It is up to us to spread the good news of the gospel!

PRAYER: Father, it is my desire to unlock as many doors as I can to grant access to those who may be seeking you. Forgive the times that I have failed to do so because of my lack of scriptural understanding. I commit myself anew to the study of your word so that I may be adequately prepared to share confidently when opportunities arise. Amen.

Do It Yourself!

(Numbers 18:2-7 NLT) 2 “Bring your relatives of the tribe of Levi–your ancestral tribe–to assist you and your sons as you perform the sacred duties in front of the Tabernacle of the Covenant. 3 But as the Levites go about all their assigned duties at the Tabernacle, they must be careful not to go near any of the sacred objects or the altar. If they do, both you and they will die. 4 The Levites must join you in fulfilling their responsibilities for the care and maintenance of the Tabernacle, but no unauthorized person may assist you. 5 “You yourselves must perform the sacred duties inside the sanctuary and at the altar. If you follow these instructions, the LORD’s anger will never again blaze against the people of Israel. 6 I myself have chosen your fellow Levites from among the Israelites to be your special assistants. They are a gift to you, dedicated to the LORD for service in the Tabernacle. 7 But you and your sons, the priests, must personally handle all the priestly rituals associated with the altar and with everything behind the inner curtain. I am giving you the priesthood as your special privilege of service. Any unauthorized person who comes too near the sanctuary will be put to death.”

The book of Numbers records the strategic plan of God for the operation of the Old Testament Tabernacle. Honestly, I wonder why God requires all of these intricate details. I’ve studied the details and listened to the scholarly explanations, and I still can’t make any case for the logistics of it all. I simply choose to believe that God has a reason for it all.

The thing that struck me this morning was the very specific duties that the priests were required to complete. In verse 5 God says, “You yourselves must perform the sacred duties inside the sanctuary and at the altar.” And in verse 7 He instructs, “You and your sons, the priests, must personally handle all the priestly rituals associated with the altar and with everything behind the inner curtain.”

God made it very clear that while there were helpers who had been assigned to assist the priests, there were limitations as to what those helpers could do. God’s requirements were so specific that He said, “they (the Levites) must be careful not to go near any of the sacred objects or the altar. If they do, both you and they will die. (Verse 3)

I’m fully aware of the historical context of these commands and the very specific interpretation that accompany the Scripture. But, while reading these verses, I was impressed with the idea that there are certain things I must do myself. There are some things that only a father can do for his children. Likewise, a mother can provide nurturing and love like no one else. A husband/wife can provide spousal support like no one else can. The list certainly could be a long one indeed!

As a pastor, I realize there are times when my voice, touch, input, etc. is needed. While I am blessed with a very capable assistant pastor, office assistant, and other support staff, there are times when I must interject my presence, experience, and decisions into a particular scenarios. I must do what only I can do.

The same is true for you. You have divine purpose that only you can fulfill. God is waiting for you to step up and represent His interests as only you can.

This is not a pressure. Instead God said, “I am giving you the priesthood (calling/assignment) as your special privilege of service.” Special privilege? WOW! God has provided a way for me to make a significant contribution into the Kingdom of God. That, my friend, is an incredible honor!

PRAYER: Father, help me to remember when I’m walking through the difficult assignments that You’ve asked me to perform, that You have provided a way for me to contribute significantly to the eternal kingdom of Heaven. I’m grateful that You trust me like that! Amen.

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