Saturday, March 4, 2017

Fulfilling Your Ministry

But as for you, be serious about everything, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 2 Timothy 4:5

“Proclaim the gospel, persist in it whether it is convenient or not, rebuke, correct and encourage with great patience and teaching.” 2 Timothy 4:2

When it comes to following Jesus, all believers are charged with advancing the Gospel, and fulfilling their ministry.  Those ministries and gifts may play out differently, but we share the same message and serve the same Savior. In our walk of ministry, we will experience times of weariness and discouragement. These times often and ironically come after spiritual highs.

In one of those moments this past week, I was asking God to help me push past emotions and weariness and give me wisdom to keep moving forward. That very morning, I read the words of 2 Timothy 4:2, which Paul penned as his life was coming to a close. Words in which he passed on a great trust to Timothy, words full of meaning and carrying great weight. God spoke through those words and encouraged me too. I was reminded to persist in spite of feelings, human weakness and seemingly unanswered prayers. In fact, if I had to boil down fulfilling my ministry to one word, it would be the word “persist”.

Persist is a word I have a love-hate relationship with depending on which part of me is at the helm of my heart, the flesh or the Spirit.  Our culture does not cultivate persistence, and persistence always comes with a heaping side of patience (not fries). Many follow the path of least resistance daily and wonder why they haven’t attained their deepest desires. Fast food, fast lanes, text, social media, credit cards, easy access to all forms of drugs, online divorce and the great disparity between how easy it is to kill a baby and how hard it is to adopt one, all appeal greatly to the flesh. No, persistence is an action that flies in the face of our culture. There is nothing convenient about persisting. But, God wouldn’t ask us to do something He doesn’t empower us to do. He’s not that kind of God. Thankfully, his strength is perfect when ours is weak (Philippians 4:13).

So, here’s what I love about the word persist. It’s do-able. There are a lot of things I absolutely can’t do. I don’t possess other people’s talents, skills, brains, backgrounds, experiences, beauty or abilities, but God is not asking for those things. He’s asking me to give Him what I do have (Mark 12:44) and to persist.  What a relief! It’s not my talent that makes me effective, it’s God taking what I give Him and making much out of it! That’s an order I can fill.

I love it that Paul likened fulfilling his ministry to running a race. I will never forget my first half-marathon, because nothing teaches the benefits of persistence like running a marathon! After moving to the Pacific Northwest I discovered a love for running. The climate here is perfect running weather and the mountain views are beautiful. Training for the marathon took a lot of discipline, effort, consistency and time. When it came time to run the race, I was as prepared as I could be. I had done my part to get ready for that day.

I leaned heavily on that training until about mile eleven. Eleven miles was as far as I had been in my practice due to an injury I had sustained along the way. I had two more uphill miles to go and everything in me was screaming for me to quit! My feet, legs, lungs, and mind were done! I remember praying and asking the Lord to help me finish. Somehow, I kept putting one foot in front of the other. It wasn’t graceful, or pretty, but by the grace and power of God, I did not stop running. 

I can’t describe “how” I finished or the incredible euphoria I felt as I crossed the finish line. What an unbelievable reward to personally experience God carrying me forward step by step when I was done in every way! It was brutal for those two miles (and not easy on the other miles), but I wouldn’t trade knowing what I know because of that experience for anything in this world. I still remember how amazing it felt to have that ribbon placed around my neck and to have completed that race. All of that was only a glimpse of how I am going to feel, Lord-willing, when I get to end of my life and look back and say with Paul, “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7) When the flesh screams loud, may I keep my eyes on Jesus and follow Him step by persistent step.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

What to do With a Weak-Will?

“For among them are those who worm their way into women’s households and capture idle women burdened down with sins, led along by a variety of passions, always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” 2 Timothy 3:6-7 (HCSB)

I don’t know about you, but something about the description of this woman above sobers me. I’ve known those who I might consider to be idle and those who are always following a new passion, yet not passionate about the one thing that really matters in life…following Jesus. But, the part of this verse that really stops me in my tracks is “always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth”. I don’t want to be this woman! The woman who looks in the mirror of God’s word and doesn’t change a thing. The woman who doesn’t heed these words in James, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” Storing up knowledge makes us spiritual hoarders rendering everything we possess worthless. The word of God is powerful and alive in us when it is applied. If you’ve attended your fair share of Bible studies, you may remember that one woman who was always asking questions, but never truly wanting to hear and apply the answers.  Her agenda was obvious, but the challenge here for me is am I doing what I am hearing and letting God mature me in the process? We come to a knowledge of the truth as we do it, pure and simple. No short cuts.

So how can we avoid being weak-willed women?  If you are not weak-willed altogether you probably have areas or an area that causes you struggle. As long as we are believers living on this earth our spirit is destined and sealed for heaven, but our flesh is ready to drag us back as close to Hell as it can. How do we press forward and ward off a weak will?

1.    Tell the truth to the Truth. First, we’ve got to call a spade a spade. Examine your life to assess where you are weak-willed. Where are you swayed by evil desires? In Ephesians 5:13 we are encouraged to bring everything into the light and that everything illuminated becomes light. Start dialoguing with God about your area of struggle in prayer. You can’t face what you don’t own. The truth will set you free.
2.    Ask God for wisdom. In James 1:5 we are encouraged, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” The NIV uses the word gullible instead of idle in 2 Timothy 3:6. Agree with God on areas of struggle in which you may be gullible and ask for wisdom believing that God is more than able and willing to help you overcome as you cooperate with what you know to be true in His word. 
3.    Apply the Word and abstain from the world. As mentioned above, we experience the power of God’s Word as we step out and apply it, by actually doing it. In the book of Ephesians the word of God is likened to a sword, which is an offensive weapon. When faced with temptation in the desert, Jesus used that same sword to fight off the enemies’ temptations.  We can arm ourselves with Scripture to help us stand firm against the temptations the enemy sends our way. As we learn the truth we’ll begin to recognize the lies, patterns and philosophies of this world. In Colossians 2:8 we are encouraged to “see to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than Christ.” In addition to this, Paul admonishes us “not to conform to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed (changed from within) by the renewing of …” (Romans 12:2) our minds.  As we begin to separate truth from the lies we may need to create new boundary lines in our lives.  The Holy Spirit can help us to adapt these boundary lines to our personal needs. Maybe you need boundary lines, where others don’t to stay pure? Be willing to steer clear of your pitfalls and avoid playing around the edges.
4.    Pray keeping your eyes on the prize. Along with taking up our sword in Ephesians 6 we are also encouraged to take the helmet of salvation and to pray at all times in the Spirit. When you feel weakness coming on pray! Ask God to bring His word to mind. Have Scripture written on notecards ready to speak into your circumstances. As you pray and do your best to stand firm, keep in mind that one day we will live eternally in heaven where God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ!  We can fight the good fight now knowing that one day we’ll be in a place where there is no death, grief, sorrow, tears, or pain. Hallelujah! Our day is coming!

As we begin to walk out the process above we’ll see our strength give way to His. Blurry boundary lines will become clearer and we’ll experience the safety and joy that comes with walking in the center of Christ’s will for our lives. Our resolution to be honest with God, and seek His help will allow Him to fortify and strengthen our wills. Finally, our perseverance will pay off. James 1:4 says it this way.  “Let perseverance finish it’s work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Gospel

“Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15)

At the heart of the Christian faith is the Gospel. Growing up in church, I was introduced to the word early on in life.  I remember one of my pastors encouraging the church to share the Gospel. I knew what he meant in the context of his sermon, but I am not sure if I knew exactly what it all really boiled down to enough to tell someone else. I knew what had happened to me and that my life was truly changed, but I was still learning how to put the mystery into words. Truth is, I wasn’t trying to share it enough to even realize that I didn’t quite know how to put it into words. There is no perfect formula and God can use anyone who steps out in faith for Him, but if the Gospel was important enough that God Himself entrusted it to mankind to share with one another, maybe I ought to put some effort into finding the best way for me to clearly communicate it to someone else.

When I am learning something new, I can hardly keep from sharing it with my husband.  Something he says reminds me of what I just learned and out it pops from my mouth, because it was already there just waiting to be shared.Why wouldn’t sharing the gospel be the same way? Once we know what it is we are sharing and how we want to say it, its there taking up residence in our thoughts just waiting to be activated. If we were assigned a four-minute speech in a college class and we wanted to do a good job with the assignment we were “entrusted” with ahem…we would do our due diligence. We would know our topic well, craft our words carefully and practice timing our speech. I mention timing because God encourages us in His Word “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). It takes some effort and some time, but when we get the grade it’s well worth it. Way more important to me than getting good grades, is what God will say to me one day about what I’ve done with what He’s given me. I very much want to hear the words “well done, good and faithful servant!” but have I ordered the priorities of my life in such a way to actually do the thing He’s asked me to do? It’s a question I need to keep asking myself.

In the past year I have drawn upon two sources that have helped me tremendously in understanding and articulating my faith. The first one was a study called “Share Jesus Without Fear” by William Faye and Ralph Hodge. The second one was a message in which David Platte outlined how to share the gospel using the GOSPEL as an acrostic, which was outlined on a “Gospel in Your Hand” card he passed out from an organization that equips churches to better share the gospel. These two sources have helped me share the key elements of the Gospel (the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ) with others. Of course, the Holy Spirit plays a huge roll this process, but if we are ready to share we’ll spend less time hashing over what to say when the Holy Spirit opens the doors.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Spiritual Heritage

"I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, and the God of Jacob." Exodus 3:6

"Taking personal ownership of our spiritual lineage-both in what we receive and what we pass down-is titanic in this Scriptural journey." Beth Moore

I can't tell you that the words of Scripture jump off the page and grab my heart every day. However, there are days when that absolutely does happen and those days make all the other days worth the search. God met me so personally in the thick of Bible Study on day two of this week. My husband had sent a text to me that morning about his studies of Abraham. I was reminded how Abraham was called by God to get up and go (not even knowing where he was going). How he obeyed and dwelled in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise. Then, later I was reading in our Entrusted Study where Beth had us envision standing in our spiritual family tree in heaven and how the whole thing would've begun with Abraham. At that moment I was overcome with how I too, as a believer, was included in God's lineage! Romans 11:17 reveals that when we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ we too are grafted into the family of God. One of the reasons this word meant so much to me was the timing of when I encountered it.  In the throws of empty-nest shock, ( I use the word shock because our children, who were already both basically out of the house, were still geographically very close and always have been close to us until this last summer, where in one week one moved across the country and the other out of the states ) God reminded me of my spiritual heritage. At the same time, He reminded me through the unfolding story of Paul and Timothy (who he loved like a son) that we are able to make spiritual sons and daughters. Even though I wont be extending our family tree through physical birth, I can be a spiritual mother raising daughters in the faith till the day I die. Something is happening to me even as I connect with you in this women's Bible study. God has met me in unexpected emotional places. I imagine that He very much did the same in Paul's life as he fostered Timothy through the ups and downs of ministry. All this reminds me that being connected, and fostering relationships is worth the risk and effort they demand.

Dear "Entrusted" study gals,
Thank you so much for being adventurous and being willing to make the mass exodus from the sanctuary to the student ministries room last week! Thank you Pastor Aaron for letting us use your room and Pastor Cameron for all you did to make things work! This week we will be back to our more comfortable table set up which better allows for small group discussion. Thanks for hanging with me! I pray that God is encouraging you personally as you study this week and look forward to hearing how He has been working in your lives!

Below are a few questions we didn't get too last week. Feel free to chime in on one or all of them.

Also! Remember to post any questions you have here as you study this week!!!

Video Discussion Questions
1.What could be the consequences of not respecting and valuing the gifts God has given you?
2.What would it look like this week for you to highly and favorably value the gospel through your attitudes and actions?

3.What does it look like when you honor God with your gifts (or what do you think it looks like)?