Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Purpose, Sovereignty, and Being Left Handed

I was scrolling through Facebook the other day, and one of my buddies from Phoenix had posted a silly link saying "I want to live like the apostles!" Loving biblical humor, I clicked on it. It had a huge list of the apostles, Stephen, and other people who had come to an unfortunate demise because of their faith. I had seen all these before:

Stephen, the first martyr for Christ, was stoned to death.
When I say stoned, I don't mean he overdosed on anything. Stephen was dragged outside of the city and had rocks thrown at him until he was dead.

Have you ever had someone throw a rock at you, and it hits you? Ya. Imagine that, except the people throwing them at you hate you with the utmost intensity and intend very much to end your life. And there's a lot of them. The part that scares me the most is that Stephen was around the same age as some of my students...

The list went on;

Several disciples were crucified upside down.

Several were cut in half. With a sword.

Some ended up being lion munchies.

One died of old age! On a desert island.. alone....

And I started thinking "Holy cow! That's ridiculous! It makes me look like such a pansy Christian!" What on God's green Earth could convince a human being to endure such a brutal, unbearable, gruesome demise?


They truly understood the weight of what they were preaching and living for, and they also understood the persecution that would follow. Jesus gave them ample warning, telling them they would be persecuted and murdered for what they were doing. He warned them that His path was hard and not pretty. But the apostles knew that their mission was more important than their own lives. They knew obedience was more important than comfort.

Am I living that? With all my heart, I do NOT want to be crucified or stoned or anything like that! I don't even enjoy stubbing my toe! But I want to live so filled with passion that I put the call of the gospel in higher priority than oxygen or life itself.

At camp, I created a saying. I would use this saying to exhort my staff, to encourage them.

"What you are feeling is not as important as what we are doing."

Clearly, encouragement is not my spiritual gift.
Many times, this phrase would get passed around when a counselor would be disgruntled with another counselor and it was distracting to the ministry:

"What you are feeling is not as important as what we are doing."

Maybe one of the program staff really likes one of the girl program staff, and they're having a hard time focusing on the ministry and the kids:

"What you are feeling is not as important as what we are doing."

In no way did I ever mean it in a way that was devaluing the validness of their feelings. They might be angry at that other counselor for a good reason! And liking a girl is a great, beautiful thing! but the main reason we were there was to share the gospel and the love of Jesus Christ. The main reason God put us here. So that brings me back to the martyrs.

Those men were killed by people who wanted them to denounce their faith, admit they were lying, admit they were wrong, but the apostles knew with every fiber of their being that what they had experienced the last three years of their life with Jesus was real. They knew without a shadow of a doubt that Jesus was God in human form, come to die as payment for our sins because of incomprehensible and perfect love only fully attainable by God Himself. They knew that what they were preaching was the most important words to ever be told, and that their mission was more important than anything else.
If, for one moment, they did doubt Jesus, or if they really were lying, would any of them actually gone through with their execution and torture? Their faith was worth dying for.

If they were lying, they would have recanted their lie with a simple "just kidding!" as soon as people began picking up rocks, or as soon as the cross was brought out.

If they doubted, they would have cracked beneath the torture and renounced their faith. But they didn't. They knew that what they were feeling was not as important as what they were doing. They trusted in the promises of Jesus Christ, the promises that had been made thousands of years before Jesus was even born. They had complete confidence in the promises of God. They had complete confidence that Jesus Christ is who He says He is. That, in essence, is faith.

In Hebrews, faith is defined as "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is having complete confidence in the faithfulness of God; confidence that God will always keep His promises. The Holy Spirit works through our faith to glorify God.

So what am I doing for the kingdom of heaven? Fortunately we live in a place that's totally cool with our love for Jesus. In fact, being a Christian is the cool thing to do in America. I can never thank God enough for that! God's grace goes beyond my understanding!

I'm sure I don't have to talk about the countries that hunt down Christians like jedi after Order 66. The persecution is unspeakable! Followers of Christ living in tunnels and basements, protecting individual pages of the bible with their lives just so people can sneak in and read it for a few minutes. THEY are living their faith just like the apostles! I knew some friends in college that were going on a secret mission trip to a country in Asia that had made bibles illegal. The trip's main focus was to smuggle bibles in to the country and distribute them to several underground churches. That's so rad! That's like Jason Bourne stuff mixed with Billy Graham. You could call it...... the Bourne-Again Identity.

Man, I need to work on better jokes....

I am blessed and cursed with religious freedom at the same time. I live in a place that does not force me to stand for my faith in the face of death and painful persecution. Losing friends and alienating people is nothing compared to the sacrifice made by some.

But I do not wish I had their life. Why? Because God has put me here in Las Vegas where my faith has been tested in different ways. I have been put here for a specific purpose. I have devoted my life to the pursuit of God's will in my life. If God wants me to start a church in Guang Zhou, I'm packing. If God wants me to die a grumpy, cantankerous, old curmudgeon of a youth pastor, I'll shop for a good cane now.

At what point in the maturation of faith do we decide that being comfortable is God's will for us? When do we decide that being challenged is a thing for missionaries and foreign Christians? What age do we have to be before we decide that we are just too old to step out of that boat and follow Jesus on to the water?

It reminds me of the book Do Hard Things and The Barbarian Way. The God we worship and serve today is the same God that split the Red Sea to rescue the Israelites, the same God who gave Jephthah the outcast the strength to save his people, the same God who created and named the stars and created the oceans, the same God who spoke to Moses, whose voice caused Moses to radiate the glory of God's presence, the same God who formed Adam from dust and walked with him in the Garden of Eden. I worship THAT God. God never changes. His promises hold fast and true. I have full confidence in the promises of God.

The Holy Spirit is what gives a Follower of Christ his power; He surrounds and penetrates us, He binds the galaxy together. The Holy Spirit resides in everyone who trusts in Christ alone. He works through us, uses us, empowers us, gives us the strength we need to do all the things God designed us to do.

One thing that I always found fun and uber exciting about being a Follower of Christ is the fact that we all are created with a purpose. A unique, important, God glorifying purpose that was designed only for us before we were even born. Before the universe began, God had a plan for each of us as individuals.

Mind. Blown.

One thing that always blew me away was the story of Ehud. In the book of Judges, Ehud is the famous left handed assassin who delivered a message from God to the evil King Eglon.

Ehud is described as a left handed man who was given a mission from God. He made himself a sword and strapped it to the inside of his right leg. When he goes to the palace of King Eglon, the guards check him for weapons, they pat him down as they would check a right handed person, checking the left leg. Anyways, Ehud gets a private audience with the King and whispers to him

"I have a message to you from God."

He takes out his hidden blade and slays the great fat king, hides the body, and escapes, never to be seen again.

So the story is pretty rad in itself, but the part that blew my
mind is the fact that God created Ehud to be left handed specifically for the purpose of rescuing the nation of Israel from the oppression of the evil king.

Whoa! Am I the only one who is just blown away by that? God's sovereignty is like a cosmic Rube Goldberg machine that involves the entire universe to accomplish one result: the glorification of God. Everything works together to accomplish this from the exploding of stars to babies being left handed to the death of a blue whale, everything is part of God's plan.

That is what a temporally minded being like myself finds so astonishing. When was the last time any of us marveled at the greatness of God? When was the last time you looked at leaf and said "Holy crap! That's awesome!"?

Our God is so huge! As one of His marvelous creations, I will serve Him my entire life, always looking for more ways to serve and grow to become more and more of the man that God designed me to be. We are all here to serve a higher purpose than what we see in front of us right now. Our decisions and actions impact eternity, and we each have a job to do. What we are feeling is not as important as what we are doing. What have you been called to do?

I think I got off topic....

Nate T B