Whatever You Ask

You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. This is my command: Love each other. (Jn 15:16-17 NLT)

When Beth and I accepted our call into missions and a subsequent appointment to TWR we chose this verse for our very first prayer card. There is a lot of great theology in these two verses to apply daily in our lives. There is also a possibility of misunderstanding. Such a simple, profound statement can open venues in our Christian walk and, if we’re not careful can put stumbling blocks on our path.

I find five astounding facts impacting my relationship with God and the world in these two short verses. The first, and perhaps the most humbling of all, is that we did not choose God. Instead, the second fact, God chose us, not the other way around. Yes, I believe in free will to accept the gift of salvation purchased through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

On the other hand I believe God calls certain individuals to special tasks. In this case He is the one who chooses us for the task. When we decide and tell God what task we should be doing I think we’re getting a little too big for our britches, as my Momma would say.

Beth and I did not choose mission work. In fact I was avoiding it for many years. It was only as God worked in and through our lives that we became aware of His special choice. My choice would have been much different. But we obeyed, pressed on and God has been guiding our steps year after year.

In our calling God appointed us to go and produce lasting fruit, the third fact. When God makes a special choice for our lives there is a purpose, there will be fruit. Thanks to God working in our lives we’ve be able to help enable the global distribution of the Gospel message.

We’ve heard from many who listened and responded to God’s marvelous offer of eternal life. Lasting fruit was produced not by us but by God. The interesting offshoot of obeying God’s choice is that the Father will give us whatever we ask in His name, the fourth fact.

I don’t think this is an unlimited credit card allowing us to fulfill every whim and desire that pops up in our minds. That would be selfishness and greedy on our part. I think He is saying that in the midst of obedience God provides everything we ask in order to accomplish the calling He has made in our lives. God doesn’t toss us into a ministry without providing the necessary tools to accomplish his purposes. It’s in His name and for His purpose, like a combination lock, that we can ask for anything and trust God will provide.

The last fact, one that permeates scripture from beginning to end, is the command to love each another. I always find it thrilling and a challenge that the command to love each other never contains qualifiers. Love, Jesus tells us, is the universal demonstration of a follower of Christ. Without love we are just noise in a world filled with noise. With love, we are like that candle on the hill shinning, in the darkness to guide others through the shadows into the light and love of God.

Have we chosen our work for God or allowed God to choose us for His work? In the work He chooses for us are we fruitful and relying on God’s provision to accomplish the work? Are we loving each other?

Let’s place our lives fully in God’s hands. I can assure you from my personal experience He knows much better what I should do than I. And I’m glad to let him take control.

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Taking Aim

(NLT) Romans 14:19 “So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.

When I was a young boy my father purchased a .22 calibre rifle just for fun. We would go out to a safe area, put up some cans and see how long it took until we could hit them. I wasn’t very good at it. In fact I was terrible. I could blame it on the size of the rifle (not big by any means) and my small stature at the time. Regardless, the entire event was fun and fascinating.

In the following years, even though I thought sharp shooting would be good, I never owned a gun or took up shooting except for the occasional BB gun.

It wasn’t until I was much older, over sixty, that I picked up a weapon and pointed it at something else. A target in this case. I was visiting one of my sons and I knew he and his wife enjoyed target shooting now and again. I casually mentioned I had never fired a pistol in my life so he offered to take me to the range. I was thrilled. This was a new adventure.

He carefully pulled out the secure gun cases and showed me all the bits and pieces of the pistols. He had two sizes, large and small, the same calibre, but the smaller one was great for his wife. We drove down to the closest shooting range, picked up safety glasses and ear protection from the desk and entered the target room.

My son hung the target and pushed the button to whisk it about twenty feet away. It was the common human outline you see a lot in police movies. I was going to practice like a policeman. Cool beans!

Just then the one other fellow in the room, a few stalls down the line started shooting. I hadn’t donned my ear protection and it was loud. I jumped at the sound and quickly covered my ears. With my aversion to loud noises this might not be such a good idea.

Again, my son showed me the pieces of the weapon, how to hold it and not lose some skin, and when and where to point. I faced the target and took up what I thought was an appropriate stance. I lifted the pistol up. I pointed at the target and pulled the trigger. It was loud, it was exciting, and . . . I hit the target! Granted at that distance I think anyone could hit the target. I was just to the right of center and the following shots were grouped in the same area. At least I was consistent.

I’d like to think my son was a little impressed at my consistency and accuracy. Not bad for a first timer. I haven’t done any target shooting since then but remember the excitement and downright fun taking proper aim at the target.

I often wonder what I’m aiming at in life. I get up. I go the the ministry office. I work with computers. My aim is to enable the gospel message to reach as many people as possible through any avenue available. Judging by the listener responses our aim is pretty good. I’m constantly correcting and adjusting my aim to be more effective.

When it comes to my relationships in the body of Christ, I hope my aim is to build up others. As the verse above notes I want to work towards harmony. In any local church, much more in the global body of Christ, there is a wide diversity of opinion on many subjects.

I don’t want everyone to think or agree with all my interpretations or applications, but I want there to be harmony in all things. Granted there are some theological points I stand firm on but many of the things we argue about are just personal applications and not to be universally applied. Like sharp shooting I constantly make adjustments to my aim so I can better encourage others and bring harmony in the body.

As we interact with the body of Christ, the local church, and the world let’s consider what are we aiming to accomplish? Do we seek to foster harmony to build up others or inject disharmonious ideas and actions tearing down others?

I think Paul is encouraging us to build up not tear down. Let’s focus our aim, get out our gloves, pitch in and build up one another in harmony.

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Peace of Mind

(NLT) John 14:27 “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”

Thirteen months ago my life was redirected unexpectedly with a terminal diagnosis. I know, everyone is dying eventually but my time clock was suddenly fast forwarded with no fanfare or warning. Somehow I don’t remember planning this. Much to the contrary I was planning on retiring and spending my later years visiting new places around the country with my wonderful wife. 

Ah, the best laid plans are always subject to the providence of God. It’s in these unplanned detours in life that a person’s faith is tested. Testing provides answers to questions we ask ourselves, concerning our faith, that previously we casually answered based on what we hoped would be true. It takes the deeper aspects of our faith from an academic discussion into reality. It changes our understanding of how we think we’d react to visible and tangible actions and responses. Theory becomes reality. Faith grows or weakens.

So God has placed me in this new adventure, this new life, and I must go beyond all the learned responses I’ve parroted in my life and discover what is real and what is facade. All the things I preached and taught are revealed before God as either true faith or just academic lessons.

From the day the word cancer was broached Beth and I have had peace. I myself was amazed at the calmness God provided. Until that evening I wasn’t sure what I’d do. Now I know. It was nothing I could conjure up in myself nor anything the world cold provide. It was solely a gift from God. It’s a gift I cherish each day. It’s cherished in good days and bad days and with treatment there are many bad days. But even in those I have peace of mind.

I’ve spent a lifetime sharing God’s love and grace around the world. I’ve had to rely on God in many situations which were beyond my skills to manage. And honestly, God never failed me. I know I’ve failed him more times than I want to admit but He has never failed me. So I figure in this new life, where I can’t change things by my skills or abilities, it’s a good time to continue trusting, unfailingly in the one who has never failed me.

I was reminded recently of the verse quoted above. Jesus, as part of His incarnation, left us a gift the world can’t provide and doesn’t understand. He left us peace of mind and heart. As someone who can be hot headed and impulsive when things don’t go the way I expect; this peace of mind and heart confounds me and I am grateful to be confounded. 

Talking with people over the last year I believe I’ve come to a conclusion about my terminal illness. It’s nothing I planned, nor attempted to accomplish. And yet, God has a purpose in all things whether we understand them or not. I trust in His purposes even when I can’t discern, in my limited human logic, the whys and wherefore. My cancer serves at least two purposes I can see.

I can understand and strengthen my faith. I can allow God to use my cancer to strengthen the faith of others. Because I know who I am and the good and bad things I’ve done in my life, being an example to others is not something I would ever espouse. It’s only in placing everything I have in God’s hands and trusting in Him that He can accomplish these things in my life. 

And this is what I’ve chosen. Because I fully offer myself to God I can understand and follow the end of the verse. I’m honestly not troubled. I’m honestly not afraid. These are two things I would’ve expected. Thank you Lord for your perfect peace.

Perhaps, next time you find yourself in an unexpected place, a place you never imaged, you will remember this verse. It’s God who provides us peace of mind, not our own will. It’s God who can tell us not to be afraid or troubled. You might find comfort, strengthen your faith and the faith of those around you.

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Reasons Why

I spend a lot of time listening to music. Sometimes it soothes, sometimes it becomes a learning exercise to introduce a new song in church, sometimes it puts me to sleep. Once in a while one lyrical line leaps out of the supporting music to catch my ear. 

Listening to a new song, on my MP3 player while walking to the office, this phrase jumped out, “Others have their excuses, but I have my reasons why.” I don’t know about the rest of the song but that phrase carries with it a simple condemnation many of use are afraid to admit.

This song “Reasons Why” is by the Bluegrass/Folk group Nickel Creek. My son introduced me to this talented group thinking I would like their music. He was right. I love it.  Not only am I impressed with their instrumental and vocal talents but also by the occasional poignancy of their lyrical expositions, including this succinct but blunt phrase.

I’ll be the first to admit I can be a master at this particular form of self deception. If I had a nickel for every time I recognized this axiom at work in conversation with another I’d have a lot of nickels. I wouldn’t be up a creek without a few coins, made from nickel, in my pocket. I guess that was a poorly constructed pun but . . . I have my reasons!

I’m sure many of us can internally admit we are susceptible to this temptation, in a verbal debate, when we find our backs against the proverbial wall. Basically, we know in our own mind what we’re doing, or justifying, has no reason or justification. So, with a quick wit and a few short words we proclaim, “I have my reasons.” We leave it at that assuming it is the “end all” to conflicts of logic or purpose. What a cop out!

I’m not saying that sometimes our reasons, left unexpressed for whatever reason, are not valid and justifiable. I just recognize my own tendency, and have observed it in a myriad of others, to squirm out of situations we know are wrong by hiding in the ambiguous veil of unexpressed reasons.  It seems our view of honest interaction is winging to another dimension for the sake of self-justification or aggrandizement. 

So I ask myself, (you can join me with a personal evaluation unless you have an excuse not to) “Am I being honest? Do I really feel my actions are justified and can be supported from a Christian perspective? Or, am I deceiving myself so I can present myself as doing right when I know I’m doing wrong?” 

Too often I don’t like my answers. Too often I find God sending that annoyingly honest person to question my motives thus exposing a subterfuge. I, in knee jerk reaction, have my reasons while declaring the ability to expose other’s for their obviously contrived excuses. What a cop out!

Now that I’ve written this I’m in a bind. Without some reasonable justification; I’ve got to work at being totally honest. That’s difficult. Honesty means openness. Openness means transparency. Transparency means I can’t keep those excuses lurking in the back of my character hidden behind the walls of expressed reasoning. Bummer! But a good way to live.

If you are one of those annoyingly honest people . . . .don’t send me a report card. I’ll probably just give you my reasons for what I did while exposing your excuses for not doing what you should. 🙂

Papa Chick

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Z is for Zeal

…the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.(Romans 12:6-8 ESV)

I can say I have a zeal for a number of things. I have a zeal for music. I have a zeal for old movies. I have a zeal for my wife, children and grandchildren. Above all these is a zeal for God. I’m not sure how my zeal compares to others who follow Christ. I’m sure some are more zealous than I while I’m more zealous than others.

What do I mean by zeal? I mean an earnestness, an eager desire, an enthusiastic diligence toward a cause, something or someone. I want to know more, draw closer to, support and defend those things in my life I consider highly important. At times this passion can be overpowering, pushing aside all other thoughts and activities. I can be so impassioned in praising God through music that everything around me becomes a blur as I focus on my savior.

Jesus was so diligent to defend the center of worship toward God he drove out the money lenders from the temple with a whip. This brought the Psalmist’s words to the mind of John as he chronicled Jesus’ incarnate life. “His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’” (John 2:17 ESV, quoting Psalm 69:9) I haven’t driven out any money lenders, but I have fought against the world’s invasion of the church more than once.

Sometimes our zeal can be heartfelt but ill-informed. One of Paul’s passions was the salvation of his fellow Israelites. He recognized their enthusiasm toward God but bemoaned their misunderstanding. He writes, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.” (Romans 10:1-2 ESV) They desperately sought God but didn’t recognize the presence of their long-awaited savior.

In the Old Testament presentation of Israel’s history, over and over God is zealous for the defense of his people and his name. Isaiah talks about God’s zeal more than once. There is a call for God’s zeal to consume Israel’s enemies. “O Lord, your hand is lifted up, but they do not see it. Let them see your zeal for your people, and be ashamed. Let the fire for your adversaries consume them.” (Isaiah 26:11 ESV) God responds against his foes. “The Lord goes out like a mighty man, like a man of war he stirs up his zeal; he cries out, he shouts aloud, he shows himself mighty against his foes.” (Isaiah 42:13 ESV)

In Paul’s description of a true Christian’s nature, he comments on our zeal, “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.” (Romans 12:11 ESV) I find it hard to be slothful and zealous. That seems contradictory to me until I talk with a Christian who declares their passion toward God but walks according to the world.

In the passage before this admonition to a fervent spirit, Paul outlines some aspects of the gifts God bestows on his children. Depending on your gift, do it with gusto, full throttle, but above all exercise it accordingly. “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” (Romans 12:6-8 ESV) Zeal is specifically paired with leading others.

If others do not see our passion, our diligence, our earnestness in following Christ, they will be as dispassionate, haphazard, and uncommitted to match what they see in us. Don’t be deceived, people watch what we do as believers and it impacts their own image of God and their walk with God for good or bad, for lackluster concern or zealousness.

My hope is that your zeal for God in all aspects of your life will be encouraged through these short alphabetical glimpses into the theology of Christianity. Let us show our passion, our diligence, our earnestness, our zeal for God at all times, in all places and in all circumstances. He is the God of eternity and I’m looking forward to being with him. How about you?

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Y is for Yoke

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.(Matthew 11:28-30 ESV)

I remember the first time I heard the word yoke I was as a very young boy. I thought it was a comic’s version of egg humor. Then I got older and read Matthew and was astounded. I’ve already discussed being quiet. Now I’m contemplating finding rest for my soul.

In my mind I picture a pair of oxen joined together to work with a yoke around their necks. Something about the trudging back and forth across a farmer’s field just doesn’t feel particularly restful. It makes me fatigued just to think about it. What is fascinating is how a yoke can improve the oxen’s ability to plow a field.

The oxen are stronger because there are two. Even if one is stronger or walks faster than the other, they must work together to keep the yoke from twisting and causing injury. They must cooperate, work as a team, modify their behavior to not only plow well but to reduce their own exertion to the most common factor. And so, it is when we yoke ourselves to Christ. It is a joint effort.

We must be careful to whom we are yoked. Paul reminds us, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1 ESV) Before we came to Christ we were already yoked to sin. Our lives were controlled by an unholy binding to the depraved desires of this fallen world. In Christ, we are yoked with the creator of the universe.

Again, Paul reminds us when writing to the Corinthians, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14 ESV) Joining together with an iniquitous generation is bad news. We’re taught wrong habits and must fall in line with the corrupt nature of society around us. Being yoked to Christ we learn from perfection incarnate.

Even within the confines of the church we can find incorrect yoke fellows. Peter made this point before the council in Jerusalem. In our zeal for righteousness we too can overburden new believers. In Acts we read, “Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?” (Acts 15:10 ESV) I wonder how often we project some rule on other believers which we cannot accomplish in our own life. Jesus never places a yoke on us he has not already carried but a burden he has experienced and knows well.

I’ve worked hard most of my life. I have to admit, I get tired. At times I can find work, even the joyous work of bringing the Gospel to the world, becoming heavy and difficult to carry. It isn’t always easy. After all these years I can say, without reservation, I could use a rest. At times I want things to be easy. This isn’t something I can accomplish in my own strength. I need help.

Then I read the verses in Matthew again and I sit back, sigh in relief, and surrender my life, every part, into the loving hands of God. I stop striving. I stop trying to do it on my own. Things become easier with Christ as a yoke-fellow. My burden becomes light with Christ as a yoke-fellow. I can find rest. No better teacher can come along side than the one who sacrificed himself to redeem me from the damnable pressures of the world. My burden is shared, modified, and eased as I learn from Christ how to manage a yoke and the burden of this life.

My soul finds rest in Christ alone. Sleep is good for the body but only Jesus can show me how to find rest for my soul. I’m at peace. I can face a world diametrically opposed to my faith. I can rejoice in good and bad times. Through all these my soul rests in God’s loving hands. In my life I’ve found nowhere else, I’ve found no one else, that can bring rest to my soul.

Where do you find rest? Is it in daily scrambling to appease the demands of the world or in the loving arms of one who gave his life for you? Might I suggest, take on Jesus’ yoke, learn from him, ease your burden and give your soul rest?

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X is for Xenodochy

Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. (Hebrews 13:1-2 ESV)

Did you know there are no words that begin with the letter “X” in the English bible? At least I couldn’t find one. So, I was stymied until I ran across the word, xenodochy. If you know the meaning of this word, I congratulate you. I had no idea until I looked it up. Thankfully it fits right in this alphabetic look at Christian theology.

This word, which I think is great to slip into a conversation, is a 17th century word for hospitality. A xenodochial person likes to extend hospitality to others and entertain strangers. I think this readily describes my wife. She loves to entertain both friends and strangers. In our years of ministry, we’ve entertained many strangers. Once we entertained them, we got to know them, and then they were no longer strangers.

Since I was young, I’ve always been fascinated with the above verse In Hebrews. To consider the possibility that I, mostly with my wife’s excellent talents, may have entertained an angel boggles my mind. Only because we were willing to entertain someone could this happen. I suspect if I’d known so-and-so was an angel I might have behaved differently and “put on the dog” to properly demonstrate my exceeding and humble graciousness. That just wouldn’t do.

Hospitality is something we’re called to extend as faithful followers of Christ. Peter reminds us to, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (1 Peter 4:9 ESV) It’s fascinating that Peter tags on those last two words, “without grumbling.” I can be found guilty of grumbling over the intrusion of another guest in our home. It takes effort to show hospitality. It takes grace to bring someone into your home and extend hospitality to them.

But what exactly is hospitality? According to dictionary.com hospitality is, “The quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.” It isn’t “putting on airs” in an attempt to impress your visitor. It’s the ability to make someone feel at home and comfortable with you. I love it when I go into someone’s home, whether they’re known or a stranger, and I quickly feel like I’m home. It’s disarming and allows me to relax and be my true self.

Spending time in the home of strangers around the world I’ve experienced this comfortable acceptance. Even in places where the host and I didn’t speak the same language, and relied on an intermediary to translate, I’ve felt the gracious hand of hospitality extended my way. Granted, I’m not an angel in disguise but I’d like to think I was able to bring encouragement and comfort to those who took me in while traveling. I think it’s important to let a hospitable host know how much I appreciate their efforts in accepting me into their home.

Paul, while writing to the Romans, inserted this encouraging note, “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” (Romans 12:13 ESV) While in Hebrews we’re encouraged to show hospitality because it might be an angel in disguise and we don’t want to miss that opportunity, in Romans hospitality is encourage to fellow believers. Between these two I think God is trying to tell us to always show hospitality. Always make people around us feel comfortable. And, always do this without grumbling because it should be a privilege and joy, not a burden.

When dealing with strangers I’m reminded, as a Gentile, I too was a stranger to God. Paul reminds us to, “remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” (Ephesians 2:12 ESV) But God offered us hospitality and redemption. We were strangers but thanks to Jesus we are no longer strangers because now we know him.

How are we showing hospitality? Do we grumble and complain that our home is invaded by strangers or because we “have to” show hospitality to fellow believers? I’ve been there. I think it’s part of our fallen human nature battling with the comfort we feel as Jesus welcomes us into an eternal family. But I learned. We all can learn. We want to feel comfortable in unknown situations. Perhaps we need to insure we extend that comfort to those we don’t know who enter our unknown situation.

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