Archive for February, 2015|Monthly archive page

Hallelujah! I’m a slave!

I have never heard anyone shout: “Hallelujah! I’m a slave!”

But, the Bible suggests we should praise God for being a slave of Jesus Christ.  I confess I haven’t thanked God for being a slave.

Author and pastor Juan Carlos Ortiz says in his marvelous little book Disciple we should be so in love with God that we want to do his every bidding – no matter what.  In other words, we should cry out with the apostle Paul: “I am a slave of Jesus Christ.”

The alternative is to be a slave to Satan and our own selfish desires.  That route, says Ortiz, leads to loneliness and ultimate death.

He quotes Paul’s words in Romans 14: “Not one of us lives for himself, and not one us dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore  whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.”

In other words, we believers are not free to do as we wish.  We are here to do what God is asking us to do.

Of course, I keep doing what I want to do.  And I am amazed when things don’t go well – and I am left feeling unsatisfied.

Ortiz offers a diagnosis for my problem.  Before turning to Christ, “we were natural citizens of the kingdom of selfishness”.

“It is the place where everyone does his own will,” he writes.  “That is the way Satan runs his kingdom . . .”

We are never free of some ruler – we only have a choice between Satan and God.

To become God’s slaves, we must die to our natural selfish selves.

That means giving up everything we have and own to God.  It’s a big demand for someone used to living his life for himself – for example, me.

Ortiz says we can only live this kind of life if we breathe the oxygen of love – God’s love. To buy me, Jesus died for me – he wanted me so much, he gave his life for me.

Ultimately, says Ortiz, we must submit ourselves to “mashed potato love” – a love where all our self-centredness is destroyed and we are one with God and with each other.  That is the love that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit have for each other.

If we love like that, we will want do what God wants.  And then we may shout:

“Hallelujah! I’m a slave of God!”


Jesus’ way

From today’s standpoint, Jesus had a weird way of making followers of God and future leaders.

He didn’t invite them to listen to sermons in church or attend classroom courses on the Bible, theology, or how to deal with the hot issues of the day.  He lived with them and walked with them in the marketplaces of Palestine.

Weird, yes.  But it worked.

It seems obvious to us when we think about it.

But it remains a revolutionary approach.  It is also very challenging for me.

The point I am making was made far better in The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert F. Coleman, a book written decades ago by a seminary professor.  The book has been endorsed by leading evangelists such as Billy Graham and Luis Palau.

“Having called his men (disciples), Jesus made a practice of being with them,” Coleman writes. “This was the essence of his training program – just letting his disciples follow him.”

It was in stark contrast to the normal approach by teachers in Jesus’ day.

Coleman says that teachers of the time “insisted on their disciples adhering to strict rituals and formulas of knowledge which distinguished them from others.”  But Jesus just asked them to follow him.

His disciples learned by walking with him, observing what he said and how he dealt with situations – how he lived.  Over time, they came to realize he was no ordinary teacher, but God himself.

And, of course, they were ready to lead when the Holy Spirit came upon them at Pentecost.  They knew what being a follower of God was all about.

Recently, someone I know told me how he grew as a believer, just after he became a Christian.  He was a teenager and the youth leader took him under his wing.  He spent time at the youth leader’s home and saw that the youth leader lived what he preached – he was a godly man with his family.

I read the same testimony by Joey Bonifacio, author of The Lego Principle.  He was a young Filipino man who was attracted to an American pastor in Manila the Philippines.  The American pastor, Steve Murrell, lived the life he talked about, inviting Bonifacio to his own home where the young Filipino saw with his own eyes what Christ-like living is all about.

What this tells me is that I need to live life with those who don’t know Jesus – and with those who do.  I may learn more about what being a follower of God is all about than all the books I read.

Let God lead

In my heart, I think I’m indispensable.  In my head, I know I’m not.

I am learning – reluctantly – that God can get his business done without me.  Yet, I am also learning that he wants me around, doing what he is asking me to do.

Sometimes, I get wound up in a particular ministry – prayer is something I am particularly keen about.  Once in a while, I get so passionate that I am frustrated when others don’t see things the way I see them.

When I ask God about this, I feel he is responding that other believers are his children, too.  They have their gifts, their talents.  And he cautions me, lovingly, that world history – and my little world, too – is in his hands.

The other day, I was talking with a friend who is going through a deep bout of depression.  I found myself sharing this little poem written more than a century ago by a young woman in Britain on the eve of New Year:

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

The poem, written by Minnie Louise Haskins, was quoted by Britain’s King George VI during the Second World War and inspired a nation.  The message: Put your future in the hand of God.

That poem could well have been written for me.  I want to know what the future holds.  I want to know that things will turn out the way I want them to.

But, God knows things I don’t.  I go back often to God’s words in Isaiah 55:8-9:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”  declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,  so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

The key, it seems to me, is that my job is not to lead God, but to let God lead me.  That means I must trust him and leave the results to him.

Slowly, I am learning.

Reluctant heroes

I am attracted to reluctant heroes like Gideon – people who step out for God despite their fears.

I believe God often calls us to do things that seem risky in our eyes, although they may be tame to others.  He does it to deepen our faith and make us spiritually stronger.

In my own life, I have tended to do the safe things.  I have missed opportunities because I have feared a negative reaction from those around me.

But I have found great satisfaction – even joy – when I have stepped out of my comfort zone to share what I know about Jesus to someone who is open and interested.  Or, to help someone who is in need.

Unfortunately, those occasions have been too rare.  But now, like Gideon, I am starting to obey the nudgings of the Holy Spirit and looking for opportunities.

What inspires me about Gideon is that he openly voiced his reluctance – and then obeyed.

The opening scene between Gideon and the messenger of the Lord in Judges 6 is a bit comical.  The angel calls him a “mighty warrior” and tells him the Lord is with him.  At first, Gideon is far from a mighty warrior but the words are prophetic because Gideon ultimately delivers his people from their oppressors, the Midianites.

But before he does that, he tries to convince God that he is not the man for the job – “my clan is the weakest in Manasseh and I am the least in my family”.

Then, Gideon dares to test God by demanding signs that he is who he says he is.  And God is forbearing and gives him the signs he requests.

After that, Gideon moves cautiously, always with a fearful eye on what catastrophe may come on him.  But he takes one small step at a time, his faith grows, and he becomes the mighty warrior the angel forecast.

This is encouraging.

Encouraging, too, is a book called Beyond Awkward whose author, Beau Crosetto, admits his own fears as he ventures out to talk with people about Jesus.  Crosetto relies on the Holy Spirit to guide him in these encounters.

In the end, Gideon had to rely on the Lord to accomplish the task he was given.  He couldn’t do it on his own.

That’s true of anyone of us as we do something God has asked of us.  It’s great to know that the power of God is there for us as we do what he has called us to do.