Monday, May 25, 2009

A garden, not a factory

From “Why Grace Changes Everything” by Chuck Smith:

“Have you ever considered the vast difference between “works” and “fruit”? “Works” suggests a factory complete with pressures, deadlines, and the constant need to produce. But “fruit” pictures a peaceful, tranquil garden, a place where we are inclined to stay and drink in the beauty while we enjoy each other’s company.

“It’s important to realize that God doesn’t come to His factory looking for products. He comes to His garden to enjoy its fruit. The gospel of grace invites us to leave behind the smog and pressure of a factory-like life of works and instead bear the fruit that God desires to see in the garden of our lives.”

He goes on to cite passages such as Gal 3:2-5 and Rom 14:4. He later expounds that we aren’t to force ourselves to “do” things for God, but rather look to Him and let these things come. And a lot of that will be things that are natural for us. For instance, we aren’t all to force ourselves to be street evangelists, etc., if that isn’t our gifting. He gives Jeremiah (20:9) as an example of how we can’t even keep back the fruit when it is within us. Good reminder that God creates us individually, not in a “Christian mold”, and we aren’t to try to duplicate one another (1 Cor 12:12). Good stuff.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Trip of a lifetime

The Lord woke me up today at about 3am for what I thought was a mere trip to the bathroom. After getting back into bed, I was curious of the time. I drowsily checked my phone and saw an unread text from my mother regarding new brunch plans for later this morning, which got my mind cranking and sent the sleepiness scurrying far away. At some point my mind drifted to an event of the previous day. I had lunch at Panda Express with a few friends. Those of you who are familiar with the fast food Chinese chain know they serve fairly large portions. After receiving a heaping scoop of a “side” of rice covering half my plate, two things came to mind. First, I waveringly thought “that is a lot of food.” Secondly, I pictured myself in a poor country dishing out rice (probably not of the pork fried variety), and it seemed so “right.” My overloaded yet fiscally feasible lunch pierced my heart as another snapshot of my American opulent lifestyle. I’m learning that I needn’t eschew it all for the self-righteous sake of claiming asceticism, but God has been, over time, putting something bigger on my heart.

For a while I’ve desired to serve overseas in some capacity. I’ve been praying for a realization of my spiritual gifts, as I have too often tried to force myself (at least mentally) into roles that may not be for me (full time missionary, street evangelist, etc.). After remembering the Panda Express experience, I thought of my church’s October mission trip to the Dominican. I’ve thought about the various mission trips off and on, usually deciding it just wasn’t the right time or utilizing some other reason/excuse. Surely, money has played a role. Growing up in my younger years without the same luxuries I’m now afforded has created within me a stumbling block in raising support and asking people to “help.” “God’s given me the ability to work,” I’ve thought, “so I’ll just save up on my own…after I pay off that debt. Ok, so it may be a little while. Well, maybe He just doesn’t want me to go right now.” So went the fallacy of pride and self-reliance, even if masked with a “God-centered” front.

I’ve know of this attitude for some time now. And I’ve known He would probably deal with it at some point. I’ve dreamed of somehow coming upon a large sum of money, but I know God isn’t going to let me skirt around this river; He’s going to have me cross it because He is a loving Father who desires His children to be dependent upon Him. I confess that as I’ve met more people and made more contacts, I’ve felt somewhat better about raising funds should the time come; I’ve divisively questioned the merit of such comfort and subsequent placement of trust (flesh, not Father?). Regardless, my faith in God’s provision has grown, and it’s in His hands I place my trust.

The Lord has been good to unveil another antagonistic attitude of mine. I recently had ideas to venture into my own ministry of a particular type, even though my church has a similar one already. I really questioned why I was averse to joining that group; maybe I didn’t want to be restricted to a determined routine or formula? Still thinking/praying over that. This aversion kindled memory of my wanting to go to Costa Rica and do my own “mission trip.” Again, my church has organized trips, yet I seemed unwilling, or at the least uneager to look into them. This morning I think I’ve realized that doing so (going with them) would make it all (actually being out there, serving, sacrificing, etc.) too real, and I was scared of that. But oh, the freedom abounding when desires are given unto thee by Him who softens the hardest of hearts and calms the fiercest of fears! How sweet, how sweet indeed!

A prayer time the other day for a friend reminded me of the importance of community in going out and serving, a contrarian convention to my current lone wolf tendency. I’m not gifted with visionary leadership or ministry planting/development (at least, not at the present time…who knows what the Lord has ahead?). God’s revealing of that lack and of my solitary disposition confirmed to me the need to seek out something established; you know, something like, let’s say, opportunities the Lord had already presented but I had rejected due to my own judgments and faulty inhibitions. Yes, freedom indeed, when we let go of ourselves and our own ideas and determinations.

I started to ponder a bit longer the practical implications of the trip. I wouldn’t have another full week to take off work, so I’d have to sacrifice a planned vacation to a friend’s family beach house in California (just writing that makes me feel far too blessed). I certainly have been looking forward to it. But I must say I have, for some reason, been even more excited/anticipatory about a June journey to Pennsylvania for a good friend’s wedding (a few of us are going up early to make a mini-vacation of it). So, for full disclosure, I feel the wedding’s “trip satisfaction” has made the Cali sacrifice far easier than expected. It’s also early in the morning right now, so we’ll see how I feel later today :)

There are a few other pieces I’ve had/need to wrestle with. One, my desire to go overseas and serve has been quelled in the past by my realization that I was emphasizing the former over the latter. It’s such a romantic idea, traveling across the waters and doing God’s work. But my heart was found out when I shied from serving across town. Hmm…not so romantic, and my desire to serve quickly shrank. From that unearthing I knew then certainly wasn’t the time to go abroad, and I wondered if that time would ever come.

The other piece is “what is a calling, and how do you know?” For concision’s sake, a recurring theme I’ve heard/read on this is God grants you gifts and abilities and creates desires in your heart. My focus on learning my calling has shifted from looking for a bright light and listening for a thunderous voice to looking at my own inventory of gifts and abilities and listening to the divine desires placed on my heart.

I feel God’s given me the desire to go to another country to serve (not sure how long); He’s been growing and pruning it. He’s also been developing various gifts in me, such as administration, gathering, and encouragement. He’s given me a good business sense and technical skills. But most of all, He’s granted me a willing heart (I pray!), covered by the blood of Jesus Christ (I know). He’s worthy of everything we have; the least I can do is give Him my life. I’m committed to serving Him, bringing His kingdom to Earth, loving as He’s commanded us to love. Only by His grace can I carry onward in this race.

For those of you who have ventured to read this far, I ask for your prayers, prayers for guidance, leading, provision, equipping, and confirmation.

I’ve questioned God so much with “what’s my calling in life?” He’s been slowly revealing that it isn’t a grand plan for me to figure out now and all at once. And this potential trip may only be a part. But when He wakes me up at 3am with all this to say, THAT I figured I should write down :)