Category: Faith

Should Volunteering Drive Us Bats?

bats

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.”  Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:28-33)

I started work on this post on a strange morning for me. I was sitting here with an enormous floater like a vampire bat fluttering in my right eye. Not a typical Tuesday morning! But upon reading the passage above and seeing how much stronger Jesus is than any vampire bat, I started singing out loud, “Jesus you really are the son of God.”

Thankfully, the vampire in my eye has since flown away! It faded out.

But today’s passage can drive you bats. Because it’s been used for many, many sermons saying “Get out of your boat.  Get out of your comfort zone.”  These have not always been condemnatory sermons, but they generally do come at times when church leaders want people to be more involved in ministry activity.

“We need more volunteers for the nursery.” “We need more ushers.” “We will have to shut down some Sunday School classes if we don’t get more teachers.”  The message: If you aren’t involved it’s because you are stuck in your comfort zone and you must leave that pampered place.

But that exhortation misses the mark when it is more concerned with getting people to do stuff than with who they are in Christ.

Peter was overcome by fear and challenged by Jesus to be a man of faith. We have fears too. Fear of losing a job. Fear of getting sick. Fear of what people will think of our decisions. We need to ask God to fulfill his promise that we will get a new heart, one that’s alive and not stone, one that’s filled with faith instead of fear.

Big danger here: The “Comfort zone” lecture risks short-circuiting heart change, shaming you to act without a renewed heart.  We need to have God-given grace-filled volunteers, not people being manipulated and shamed into volunteering.

We may or may not join the usher team or teach Sunday school. But when we do, we are much less likely to go bats and burn out and quit when we act from a willing, Spirit-filled, renewed heart!

Tell Me What I Don’t Want to Hear

dont want to hear

For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. (2 Timothy 4:3)

First, some fake news for itching ears: The Christian life is always easy.  We are special because we have faith; with our faith we can speak wonderful realities into existence. Because we have faith, God automatically protects us from the misfortunes that plague those who lack the faith that we have.

Now for some genuine news:
As Christians, we do not have the power to speak wonderful realities into existence. We are not magically exempt from misfortunes, calamities, sickness, and plagues. 

At first glance you might think that the fake news sounds much better. But here’s some genuine good news:
We have a God of all comfort. And our faith does give us something special that outsiders lack. When we are faced with misfortunes, calamities, sickness etc., we do, by faith, have a special ability to persevere through them. God gives us the grace to endure.

The bogus teaching that you won’t suffer or be sick if you have enough faith sounds good when you are healthy and the economy is booming. But what if you catch COVID and then get laid off from your job? Does this mean you are guilty of deficient faith?

Looking at Paul’s life helps answer that question. He faced much persecution and suffering. Does that mean he had deficient faith? Listen to what he said:

You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. (2 Timothy 3: 10-11)

Paul’s rescue was guaranteed until he finished God’s mission for his life. Indeed, each of us can say that God never stops sustaining and supporting us —– until we have finished with all that he has given us to do.

His guarantee does not give us our best life now but for those who believe it grants our best life forever.  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

“Must I ?”

piper

You may be familiar with the teaching and writing of John Piper. I last saw him in person 10 years ago at the Gospel Coalition conference in Chicago.  Recently  I caught him on a live stream from  the Gospel Coalition conference in Indianapolis.

Well, after 10 years, Pastor Piper, now 73, has not lost any of his zeal.

He spoke of passion week and what must happen to Jesus at the end. Here’s a scripture that was central in his talk.

And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”( Luke 9:22)

Hearing Piper’s talk I was struck by all the musts, and how all the events that happened to Jesus during  passion week were foreordained as part of God’s plan. So even though  Jesus’ executioners meant it for evil, God used the crucifixion for the good purpose of saving a people who benefit from Christ’s death  and resurrection by getting eternal life.

Piper’s talk inspired me to reflect on our own lives and whether things must happen.

We know that God is totally in control of everything, so that in our lives there is nothing that “just happens” to occur. That really means that God says everything in our lives had to happen.  Stunningly, this even applies to the most negative stuff that has ever happened to us,  including nasty ways of being mistreated, beaten up, slandered, and unjustly accused.

If we don’t see God’s hand in it, reflecting on the negative things that have happened to us leads to a whining, bitter or fearful attitude. But just think : if we believe that God is really sovereign Lord, then we must accept that he could have stopped any of it — but somehow, for his own good purposes, not always clear to us, he allowed all of it.

The events of passion week, of course, had to happen because they were part of God’s plan for bringing salvation and showing his glory throughout the earth on a grand scale.

But the things that happen in our own lives help execute God’s will on a smaller scale…our “little” lives are meant to show his glory, too …so whatever misfortunes that happen  are fully  under God’s control. I know this isn’t always easy to see and accept but it’s a wonderful antidote to bitterness.

Jumping Through the Window

sneaking-out

A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them.  Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them.  Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on.  When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:1-5)

When I was a student at Rutgers, Muhammad Ali once came to give a talk in Records Hall. The Hall quickly filled; then the entrances were guarded, and no one more could enter. However, one enterprising young man slithered through an open side window, jumped in and landed on the floor. Unfortunately for him, he was grabbed by a dean, who asked him, “Is that how you usually enter a building?” and promptly escorted him back outside….

Now, the usual moral of this kind of story would be something like “If someone was that excited about just seeing Ali, you should be at least that excited about Jesus!” But I think that kind of exhortation is counter-productive. It might pump someone up for a little while, filling them with an excitement for “All that I will do for Jesus” — but that would peter out and would not lead to lasting change.

Let’s consider what Jesus says in today’s passage. See what he compliments the men for: not for what these guys did, but for their faith. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Jesus did not say, “Since you guys worked so hard—sure I’ll heal the guy! You guys earned it! You have my approval—big time!”  No, it was their faith that led the friends to do the hard work of lowering the guy down.

We do know that Faith without works is dead (James 2:17)
But don’t forget:  the works themselves earn you squat.

So, today, we do not  think that our being pumped up and doing extra stuff will get us extra points from Jesus. Instead, we ask God to give us greater faith. Then, our good deeds will be based on our trust in a Savior who already fully accepts us.