March 2, 2020
Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.
Hiding Behind Ladles
I stood behind one more servers’ table, peering into the eyes of a woman I’d never met. But I knew our experience would forever change my effectiveness in ministry. It’s not a proud moment when you discover, after many years of Christian service, you really weren’t serving in the name of Jesus.
Up until a few days before that fateful night, I thought I was ministering the Gospel by merely serving people’s physical needs. Then God began asking me if I was just hiding behind the soup ladle, or was I truly giving those I served the full measure of what I had been given?
For six years prior to that I ran a ministry “serving” retired folks in a mobile home community. We did hundreds of jobs, provided food and transportation, and had many opportunities to form relationships. From all outward appearances, I was the definition of a man all about Christian service. But now God was leading me to examine just how many I shared something important and eternal with.
Helping people with physical needs has always come naturally to me, but seeing to the far more important needs of their souls? Watching this woman approach that night, I came to the unsettling conclusion that as much as I wanted to think I was doing God’s work, by attending only to those needs I was comfortable with, I was not. I was hiding behind the ladle, and cowering behind the paint brush. I had been giving people what their flesh required, but in fear I had been neglecting what their souls required. “What does it profit a man…?” I could have given them not only my service, but my wallet and indeed “the whole world”, and I would not have been offering what they truly needed.
So there I stood, wondering if I would hide behind my former idea of Christian service or step out of my comfort zone. The question was redundant, for I knew the choice was already made. Before this woman could make her selection of cookies, I asked her if I could pray for her. Though we had never met, she held out her hands to me and the flood gates opened. She told me a story like the ones you too often hear on the streets, and I prayed. Then she led me across the parking lot to pray for her husband as well. As my fears passed that night I got to share, really share, what truly mattered with several people.
By its very definition, faith means moving into the discomfort of the unknown. Can we imagine being one of the disciples following Jesus as He moved from prostitutes to the demon possessed? Would we want to be seen with this man who alienated those we had grown up believing were our shepherds? Would “comfortable” describe life with Jesus?
Following requires faith. Faith means putting a comfortable present in the recycle bin to make space to download an uncomfortable future. Following Jesus we suffer the heartbreak of ministering to those who will disappoint us, the mocking of those who oppose us, and the relentless attacks of the one who wants to untrack us. It’s all part of a pruning process that leads us to bear fruit in the kingdom of heaven on earth. If Christian ministry is comfortable, as so many try to keep it today — as I used to try to keep it — then it’s not the kind of ministry we read about anywhere in the Bible.
Many people who profess no belief at all do good deeds for the needy. That’s not hard. What sets us apart, and what is uncomfortable, is including the message that compels us to service. Words without deeds fail, as do deeds without a message. As Swanson and Rusaw say in The Externally Focused Church, “Good deeds pave the road over which good news travels.”
Jesus came to us in word and deed. That’s how He showed us the fullness of God’s love and justified his claim of being our Good Shepherd. In the end, He will likewise judge us according to both our words and our deeds.
From now on, I go all in or I stay home. No more hiding behind ladles thinking I am ministering when I am withholding what truly “profits a man”. We need to both speak and be His good soldiers if we want to truly benefit those He grants us. Together, our service and our message provide that which the world simply cannot offer.
“Dad! Come here!” I heard my son Malachi’s voice, and he sounded excited. I’m glad somebody’s excited, I thought. I was not at all overjoyed to be at the Tampa Zoo in 105-degree weather with humidity, and was once again proving my love for my family while the sun beat down on our skin and threatened to fry us like eggs.
Jennifer and the boys were zigzagging from exhibit to exhibit, apparently oblivious to the heat, but in that moment the air-conditioning in my car was pushing hard for my attention.
“Dad, come on, quick!” my son’s voice called again, and this time he piqued my curiosity when he added, “There’s a bald eagle!”
Actually, as I trudged over to where he was standing, I saw two bald eagles, both relaxing in the sun. One was sitting high on a tree branch while the other had settled on a stump. There was no net covering the habitat, so I wondered what was keeping those two wild birds from taking off. Then I read the small sign next to the exhibit: “The birds in this exhibit have sustained permanent injuries in the wild and cannot fly.”
Of course, I thought. You guys don’t want to be here either.
Ten feet from those beautiful birds, I just stared. These were fierce and feared kings of the sky—symbols of strength even back in ancient times, and icons today for everything I love about my country.
Did you know that a bald eagle can spread its seven-foot wingspan and soar up to ten thousand feet in the sky? The next time you’re in an airplane, keep your window shade up during takeoff. Then, when the crew says, “We’ve reached ten thousand feet; you may now use your electronic devices,” take a look outside. You’ll see what an eagle sees. They soar through the sky at forty miles per hour, and they can spot their prey from over two miles away. And once it sees dinner, an eagle can nosedive for the kill at speeds up to one hundred miles per hour.
Eagles are at the top of the food chain for a reason!
In case you’re wondering, I didn’t know all of these eagle-related facts while l was standing there at ZooTampa — I looked them up later. But I did know that eagles were created to soar, not stand on a stump. And I couldn’t help but wonder how they felt. Do they miss the feeling of their beaks piercing the wind? Do they ever forget they’ve been injured and try to fly? Have they lost the desire to fly altogether? Do they stare at the sky all day and wonder, What if?
As I stood next to my son and watched those magnificent birds who had once ruled the skies, I couldn’t help thinking about the millions of people in this world who spend their lives waiting for a miracle — waiting for life to turn in the direction they always hoped it would go. Restaurants, schools, homes, and churches are filled with women and men who feel grounded by their pasts and live in a constant state of disappointment. These are people who genuinely want to end up somewhere different from where they are currently, yet they feel stuck. They’re in a holding pattern.
Please hear me on this: you are capable of pursuing your dreams. As human beings, we’ve been uniquely fashioned and lovingly crafted in the image of our God, the Creator of the universe. Each one of us is designed for greatness. Each one of us has been created to soar!
That raises the question: Why don’t we? Why do so many people settle for life on a stump? I think it’s because they believe they’re like those eagles, lacking the strength or the ability to soar. Maybe they used to believe they could fly, but no longer. Something happened that pulled them down to the ground, and now they don’t have the faith or confidence to fly again.
This is something we all have to deal with at different times in our lives. We encounter obstacles and lies that — if we allow them to — convince us that we’re unable to soar. These obstacles are like weights that tether us to the ground and cause us to surrender our dreams.
Want proof? Just look through the Bible and try to identify one of the people we often call “heroes” of the faith who hasn’t had to overcome obstacles on their journey to fulfill God’s calling. Peter surely felt like a pretty big failure when he denied Christ. John Mark’s missionary journey got so hard that he essentially quit on Paul and Barnabas midway through. Elijah literally ran away when King Ahab and Jezebel got mad at him (and that was after God had already done a bunch of amazing miracles through him, by the way). And the most important person of all, Jesus, was criticized, ignored, made fun of, attacked, arrested, beaten, and eventually murdered on the way to completing God’s purpose for His life and saving all humankind.
In fact, Jesus’ sacrificial death is exactly what Lent is all about. As you reflect on the seminal moment of all human history and prepare to celebrate the Resurrection, may you remember that God is asking you to chase your dreams and fight through the obstacles in your path. Because obstacles will come and roadblocks are normal, but you were created to soar like an eagle. Don’t relegate yourself to life on a stump.
“John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come.” – Revelation 1:4 NASB
The book of Revelation may be full of mysteries, but it opens with a simple, practical promise: God desires that we experience the fullness of His grace and peace.
The promise of grace means that God desires to give us His abundance and favor in every situation, benefits, and bounty. He also wants us to have peace – having perfect rest and calm, trusting Him absolutely, allowing Him to take away every worry and fear.
These promises were important for early believers as they faced difficulties. But they are still important today. We can have peace, for He knows the present and the future. He is, and was, and is to come.
Throughout this passage, we see the many ways in which Jesus provides a perfect example. He is “the faithful witness,” always obeying the Father. He is “the ruler of the kings of the earth” (v. 5). And the message repeated throughout Revelation is that He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. Because of Him, we are freed from our sins.
We can be sure that He is coming again, for “behold, He is coming with the clouds” (v. 7). When He returns, He will make everything right, for He is the perfect judge and jury. He is the Alpha and the Omega. He is beyond time. And He is with us wherever we go.
No matter where you on your journey, receive His peace and grace.
Streams in the Desert – March 2
Times have changed, but life’s hard times haven’t
Be ready in the morning, and come… present thyself there to me in the top of the mount. And no man shall come up with thee (Exod. 34:2-3).
The morning watch is essential. You must not face the day until you have faced God, nor look into the face of others until you have looked into His. You cannot expect to be victorious, if the day begins only in your own strength.
Face the work of every day with the influence of a few thoughtful, quiet moments with your heart and God. Do not meet other people, even those of your own home, until you have first met the great Guest and honored Companion of your life–Jesus Christ.
Meet Him alone. Meet Him regularly. Meet Him with His open Book of counsel before you; and face the regular and the irregular duties of each day with the influence of His personality definitely controlling your every act.
Begin the day with God!
He is thy Sun and Day!
His is the radiance of thy dawn;
To Him address thy lay.
Sing a new song at morn!
Join the glad woods and hills;
Join the fresh winds and seas and plains,
Join the bright flowers and rills.
Sing thy first song to God!
Not to thy fellow men;
Not to the creatures of His hand,
But to the glorious One.
Take thy first walk with God!
Let Him go forth with thee;
By stream, or sea, or mountain path,
Seek still His company.
Thy first transaction be
With God Himself above;
So shall thy business prosper well,
And all the day be love.
The men who have done the most for God in this world have been early upon their knees. Matthew Henry used to be in his study at four, and remain there till eight; then, after breakfast and family prayer, he used to be there again till noon; after dinner, he resumed his book or pen till four, and spent the rest of the day in visiting his friends.
Doddridge himself alludes to his “Family Expositor” as an example of the difference of rising between five and seven, which, in forty years, is nearly equivalent to ten years more of life.
Dr. Adam Clark’s “Commentary” was chiefly prepared very early in the morning. Barnes’ popular and useful “Commentary” has been also the fruit of “early morning hours.”
Simeon’s “Sketches” were chiefly worked out between four and eight.