Friday, April 22, 2011

Make Me Like Jesus

And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God's glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.

Last night was Maundy Thursday . I went to church feeling quite unstable. One son had had a meltdown. Two others were being ten times more obnoxious than usual. Even the "good kids" weren't happy about going church on a Thursday night when their friends were all out socializing. I had a conversation with an adult child that made me profoundly sad. I was emotionally spent.

When I got there Bart preached a profound sermon.... He talked about family dysfunction and how Jesus knew all about that. He sat at a table at the last supper with his disciples knowing that one was a betrayer, one of them was a denier, and the other ten were going to run away as soon as trouble come. And yet He shared a meal with them -- He remained true to Himself -- and he served them, even washing their feet.

I couldn't help but think of my children. There are twelve of them. Through the years some of them have done those things to us. They have denied being part of our family and told us repeatedly that we aren't our "real parents." They have betrayed us -- lied, stolen our things and money, and made false allegations against us. They "run away" from us emotionally when things are difficult.

I started to think about all of the years that I had asked God to make me like Jesus. But I realized it was never my wish to be made like Jesus when it comes to His suffering. I'll take the glory, but keep the suffering, thank you very much.

I confess that I have not been looking forward to the weekend. Our kids who live here and have multiple issues make it miserable here during holidays and the kids who don't live here coming back expecting to have a good time which isn't always possible here.

But my call from God this Easter is to be like Jesus -- and sit at a table with those I love so much who have stolen from me, lied to me, used me, and hurt me again and again. And like Jesus, it is my assignment not let them get to me -- to be true to myself, to love them, serve them, share with them and recognize that without God's grace I'm no better than they are.

The above song was playing as I prepared for communion at church last night. I hadn't heard it before and I sat there in tears, realizing for the first time that I needed to be carried to the table to take communion. And when I stood there, it so happened that all eight of our kids that live here were standing around in the same circle with me.

I realized just how much God loves each and every one of them. I realized that sometimes my attitude towards them is not at all like God's. I realized that I am just as broken as they are and just as much in need of the cross, salvation, and God's grace.

It was a humble realization. None of us get to choose how God makes us like Jesus, but it is very clear that it will involve suffering. And this weekend the way that I will share in that suffering is to look with love upon those who have a long history of doing and saying unloving things to me.

I shared all this because maybe your family isn't perfect and your holiday might be difficult as well. And possibly we can encourage each other to have a servant's heart and serve lovingly, remaining true to who we are in the midst of the dysfunction around us.

I have long ago learned that the only person I can change is me. So I'd simply like to conclude my Easter weekend with the knowledge that I did all I could do and then decide that that is enough.

Monday, April 04, 2011

On Not Being Ananias

Acts 9:10-17 says,
In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord,” he answered.

11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

I have heard two sermons about Ananias in the last 24 hours and have been pondering this idea. What if Ananias had said no?

You know the story -- Saul is knocked to the ground, blinded, and confronted by Jesus for persecuting Him. He is told to go find Ananias.

Then God tells Ananias what to do -- Hey, Ananias, I've got a favor for you -- I need you to pay a visit to the most famous Christian-killer you know --

Wow, fun, huh? Ananias points out a few facts to the Lord, but eventually, because He really was LORD to Ananias, he obeys.

So what if Ananias would have said no?

God would have just picked someone else. Saul still would have become Paul, used by God to convert thousands and to write books that we read and study today. God's plan wouldn't have been messed up.

But Ananias would have been left out of one of the biggest stories in the history of Christianity. As he heard stories about Paul over the next years, he would have had to watch what he missed out on ... this big opportunity to influence one of the most powerful voices in Christian history that mankind has ever known.

Who is God asking you to talk to today? You have no idea who that person might be some day. I think this story and though long, it illustrates my point perfectly and so I share this story:

In the year 1854, a 17-year-old boy was working in a shoe shop in Detroit. He didn't know Christ and had no interest in matters of spirituality or religion. But, he had been forced to go to Sunday school, like a lot of kids these days. One day, his Sunday school teacher went to the shoe shop where this boy was working and said, “Hey, I’m worried about you. I want to talk.” So, they went into the basement of the shoe store, where the Sunday school teacher led the young man to Christ. The Sunday school teacher’s name was Edward Kimball, and the 17-year-old boy’s name was D. L. Moody. We now know that he went on to become one of the greatest evangelists in the world, and he shared the gospel with 100 million people. And this was in the age before modern technology. Pretty incredible! And of course, Moody also founded the Moody Bible Institute and Moody Memorial Church in Chicago. His name is well known in the Christian community, even today, more than a hundred years later.

Now, it’s kind of cool to see that Moody went on to influence a man named F.B. Meyer, a London pastor and an intellectual who never focused on Jesus. Meyer’s congregation told him that they wanted this newly famous evangelist, Moody, to come speak to them. So, Meyer reluctantly agreed to let his congregation bring in Moody.

Meyer, who had a lot of intellectual pride and was ashamed of the name of Jesus, invited Moody to do a revival in his church. When Moody showed up, Meyer immediately took a dislike to him. He didn’t like him because Moody was not well dressed, and because he only had a fifth grade education.

Meyer had doctorates, and he was brilliant. So, he kind of looked down on Moody. But, Moody got up to preach in Meyer’s church and was anointed by the Holy Spirit. The power of God was upon him. And, as he spoke, he focused on Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.

As such, hundreds upon hundreds of people came to faith in Jesus Christ that day from the pews of Meyer’s beloved church. Because of this, Meyer was embarrassed and consumed with jealousy. After the revival, Moody quietly left, leaving Meyer with his congregation and with his jealousy and anger.

Two weeks later, Meyer was talking with one of his Sunday school teachers, and the teacher said, “You know, I used to focus on all kinds of stuff and never focused on Jesus, but Moody taught me to focus on Jesus. So, I’ve been focusing on Jesus over these last two weeks and I want to tell you about this boy who accepted Jesus during my class.”

As he told the story, Meyer began to weep. The Holy Spirit broke through; he was convicted and supernaturally changed. For the rest of his life, he preached Jesus to all who would listen.

As the years went by, Meyer influenced J. Wilbur Chapman; J. Wilbur Chapman influenced Billy Sunday; then Billy Sunday influenced Mordecai Ham. And it was Mordecai Ham who led Billy Graham to Christ. Get it? Spiritual dominoes.

You see, it’s incredible, the power of the gospel. To think of Edward Kimball, D.L. Moody, F.B. Meyer, J. Wilbur Chapman, Billy Sunday, Mordecai Ham, and then Billy Graham, all in a row, one going to the next, and then the next, by the power of Christ, only serves to tell us that we need not fear. We should share the gospel with confidence and joy.

When we tell someone about Jesus, we have no way of knowing what the domino effect is going to be. In our lifetime, we may not even be aware of the full harvest of souls brought to the kingdom of God simply because we remain faithful to the call. So, please be faithful.

When Billy Graham did come to Christ through the preaching of Mordecai Ham, it was during a tent meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1936. Graham, born in 1920, was 16 years old, didn't know Christ, and was "sowing his oats," as many a young man is known to do. He had a 16-year-old buddy, and they were just hanging out when they thought, “Hey, let's go into this tent and hear what this whacko has to say.”

So they were just clowning around when they went into that tent. Once inside, they realized that there was no room for them; they couldn’t find any seats. So Billy said to his buddy, “Let's get out of here.” As they turned to leave, an usher standing there saw them and said, “Hey, guys.” He put his big arms around their shoulders and said, “You know, hey, welcome. We’re so glad you’re here. Let me take you to a seat.” So, the usher took them to a seat and the rest is history.

Billy Graham found Jesus that night, and he went on to take Jesus to the world. That usher could never have known how God was using him that night through his simple yet faithful service.

Have you ever heard of Edward Kimball? I never had. But he started this story. A Sunday School teacher who went to visit a crabby teenager while he was working.... and the rest, well, it's some awesome history.

So if you feel God suggesting it's time to talk to someone about Him, you might wanna do it. Never know when you might be making a huge influence on not only that person, but the generations to come.

(Source: From the sermon of Dr. Jim Dixon, “Sin and Salvation.” Cherry Hills Community Church , Highlands Ranch, Colorado . January 27, 2008.)